Chapter 64 Abysmal: Assassination
Feng Luodi shook her head. Despite knowing of the Heir’s plan to get rid of the 7th Prince once and for all using this opportunity, she could not agree with his methods. Situ saw the look of disapproval on her face and patted her lightly on the shoulder.
“Go and take an afternoon nap. It’ll all be over by the time you wake up.“
Feng Luodi bit her lip, unsure of what to say. She looked long and hard at Situ. “Be careful.” I’m not worried about how he’ll fare against the sishi of the 7th Prince, but of the schemes of those trying to involve him in their tussle for the throne.
“Relax, I’ll be fine.” Situ quickly put on a set of light armour and headed for the area where the Imperial Army was stationed. He exchanged a few words with the Chief, and turned to lead a troop of soldiers into the woods. Feng Luodi stood still, as if her feet were rooted to the floor. Only when Situ’s figure disappear from sight did she turn back to the crowd.
She look around, taking in the faces of all who she saw. The confidence and excitement on the faces of the princes, the different expressions of the officials of the court, and Jiang Moyin who was speaking urgently to the Heir. Elder brother looks…strange and different. It’s like I don’t even recognise him right now. Feng Luodi shook the thought from her head and returned to her tent.
The afternoon session began, and the princes led their attendants into the woods. The 7th Prince spoke up first. “Brothers, I already have my eyes set on my trophy, and I will take my leave.” He turned and disappeared into the forest, his two attendants close behind him.
The 8th Prince looked around. “I shall head off in this direction, then. Best of luck to you guys too!”
The other princes all scattered in various directions, while the Heir slowly spurred his horse forward. A member of his Covert Guard appeared in front of him.
“Your Highness, a group of roughly 50 men are heading in this direction.”
“Finally.” The Heir smiled, and glanced around the area. He pointed in the direction where Situ had headed off with the Imperial Army. “Gather all of our men there. Make sure everyone stays alert.”
“Yes, your Highness.”
The Heir assessed the area again. It was quiet, and there were no traces of any animal activity in the vicinity. “Good. A quiet place.” He nodded, satisfied with what he saw. However, the two attendants trailing behind him looked uneasy, their horses snorting and pawing the ground.
Just as the attendants were about to voice their concern, a group of men dashed out from the woods ahead of them. They were clad in black clothes, a gleaming sword brandished in each of their hands and a mask on their faces obscured their identities. The two attendants frantically tried to defend the Heir, but were quickly dispatched of by the masked men. Right before the assailant delivered the finishing blow on the Heir , twenty other men dashed out from the woods and engaged the masked men in a bloodbath. Without a doubt, the new arrivals who had black sashes wrapped around their faces to protect their identity, were the Covert Guard of the Heir.
The battle was bloody and ruthless, but the Guards protected the Heir from the swords of the assailants, forming a tight circle around his horse. A sounding arrow1 was released by one of the Guards, and a loud wail could be heard in the campsite outside the woods. Naturally, the Emperor was alerted as well.
“Chief Fang, what is going on in the woods? My princes are all in there!”
“Your Majesty, I will check it out immediately. The Duke of Anping is patrolling the woods at the moment, and I believe that he’s on his way as we speak.”
“Oh? Then there’s nothing to worry about then, seeing as how the Duke of Anping is in the area.”
Despite his self-reassurance, the Emperor waited with his entourage at the entrance to the hunting grounds, anxiously anticipating the return of his sons. Before long, all of the princes have returned to the campsite, including the 7th Prince.
The 8th Prince spoke up first. “Father, we heard the signal in the woods and came back immediately.”
However, the Emperor did not look at him. “Where is the Heir? Was he not with any of you?”
The 7th Prince shook his head. “Second Brother headed off in another direction. We don’t know what’s going on.”
“Chief Fang!” The Emperor became antsy. “Is the Imperial Army not there yet?”
The Chief quickly came forward. “I have sent a thousand soldiers into the woods, and the Duke’s troops of a thousand strong should be there as well. Perhaps the Heir had caught a big prey, and is still busy trying to take care of it.”
The Emperor’s furrowed brows did not relax.
Meanwhile, many bodies were strewn around the area beside the Heir. Some were of the 7th Prince’s sishi, while others were of the Heir’s Covert Guard. The remaining six of his Guard continued forming a defensive circle around him, but there were more than twenty enemies remaining, ready to pounce at any moment.
“Your Highness, we might not be able to hold on until the Duke arrives with his men.” One of the Guards advised. “You should retreat while we still can protect you!”
The Heir shook his head firmly. “We have come so close. It will all be for nothing if I escape now.”
“Yes, your Highness! We will defend you to our very last breath!” The remaining six Guards roared, and engaged the assailants once again. Finally, just as another of the remaining Guards fell, Situ appeared out of the wood, the Imperial Army closely behind him. The sishi took one last look at the Heir, before turning and fleeing into the woods. Those that were fast enough to escape capture disappeared into the trees, while those that deemed themselves unable to escape quickly committed suicide, not wanting to be taken as captives.
The Heir nodded to his remaining Guards, and they quickly removed the bodies of their fallen comrades from the site. Finally, the Imperial Army returned to the campsite, with the bodies of the fallen sishi and the Heir’s two attendants in tow.
The Emperor was enraged upon seeing the bodies. “Duke of Anping! Tell me that you already have the identities of these men. How dare they try to assassinate my Heir!”
“Your Majesty, this men are sishi – they do not have identities.” Situ’s face was his usual mask of calm.
“Even if they are sishi, they must have been born and raised somewhere! Chief Fang, I want you and the Duke to investigate the matter thoroughly!”
“Yes, your Majesty.”
The Emperor turned to the Heir. “My son, are you injured?”
The Heir shook his head. “I am fine, Father. I was only thankful that my two attendants had defended me to their deaths, just in time for the Duke to arrive with his men.” The 7th Prince looked at the carnage on the floor, trying to calm his racing heart. The Emperor assessed the bodies, and looked at Situ again, confused by what he saw.
“Tell me, what was the situation when you arrived at the scene? Why are none of the assailants captured alive?”
Situ’s face remained static. “The two attendants had just been killed when I arrived at the scene, and there were only a few bodies on the floor. There were more than twenty men surrounding the Heir, and some of them fled the scene immediately when we arrived. I had tried to capture the remaining assailants alive, but committed suicide by ingesting a poisonous pill implanted in their mouths2 while I was preoccupied with the safety of the Heir. This was an error on my part, your Majesty. Please punish me for my mistake.”
The Emperor relaxed a little. “How can I blame someone who protected the Heir this well? If you can uncover the identity of the assailants, you will be aptly rewarded.”
The 7th Prince stared at Situ in disbelief. Is he on the Heir’s side as well? How can he just conveniently leave out the part regarding the Heir’s Covert Guard?
Situ nodded at Chief Fang. “The crime of assassinating the Heir is one that will implicate their entire clan3 . I believe a case of this nature is best handled by the Judicial Bureau.”
“Right, right. I was careless.” He looked around at the crowd of officials that have gathered about them. “Where is Chamberlain Feng?”
“I am here, your Majesty.” Chamberlain Feng stepped forward.
“The attempted assassination of the Heir will be handled by you. Chief Fang and the Anping Duke will assist you in your investigation.”
How did this happen! The 7th Prince wiped his forehead and tried to calm himself. There’s no way that they’ll be able to trace the attack back to me – no way! There were no prisoners taken alive, and that is good news for me. But how did the Heir not die from an attack by fifty sishi? And how did the Duke of Anping arrive so quickly? Why is everything going haywire!
“Seventh Brother, are you alright?” The 8th Prince quietly asked, a gleam in his eyes.
The 7th Prince wiped his forehead again and forced a smile. “Just feeling a little under the weather.” Before the 8th Prince could speak again, a shout came from beside the Heir.
“Your Highness! What’s the matter?”
The 7th Prince looked over to the Heir, and saw that the Heir had suddenly fainted, quickly supported by an official standing nearby.
“Get the royal physician now!” The Emperor roared, and attendants quickly carried the Heir into his tent for treatment. The Emperor scanned the crowd, his eyebrows furrowed in suspicion.
“Du’er, why do you look so pale? Did anything happen in the woods?” The Emperor’s voice was suddenly calm and steady.
“Father, I fear I might have eaten something bad in the afternoon – my stomach feels as if my intestines are tied up in knots. Could I please be excused?” The 7th Prince tried to keep a straight face.
“No rush. Let the physician take a look at you as well. We wouldn’t want you to fall ill as well.” The Emperor gestured to the royal physician who had just returned to the clearing. “Physician Wei, have a look at the 7th Prince before you update us on the Heir’s condition.”
“Yes, your Majesty.” Physician Wei walked towards the 7th Prince, and placed two fingers on his wrist. The prince looked at the physician with pleading eyes, but the physician did not so much as spare a glance at him. “Your Majesty, the 7th Prince is perfectly healthy. He must have been a little shocked by some events that have happened; perhaps that is why he is pale and sweaty.”
“A little shocked, you say?” The Emperor remained expressionless. “What about the Heir? Why did he faint all of a sudden?”
“Your Majesty, the heir was poisoned by a lethal toxin. Thankfully, he had only ingested small amounts of the poison and will recover soon in a few days after my treatment.”
“Poison? How could this happen!” The Emperor’s face darkened.
“I had examined a few of the utensils in the Heir’s tent when I was with him just now, and can confirm that the poison is from the tea in his cup. He was poisoned about three hours ago.”
“Hmph!” The Emperor sneered, and smacked the table in front of him. “There have been two attempts on my Heir’s life today. Who is it that is trying to murder my child?”
The crowd was dead silent – nobody wanted to draw attention to themselves in front of the raging emperor. Suddenly, an attendant dashed out and knelt in front of the Emperor, kowtowing as he wailed. “Please spare me, your Majesty!” He was quickly identified as an attendant of the 7th Prince.
The 7th Prince jumped and stepped forward to pull him back. “What are you doing!”
“Du’er.” The Emperor stopped him. “Let him speak.”
The 7th Prince’s face twitched.
“Your Majesty, I was the one who poisoned the Heir’s tea! Please spare me, your Majesty!”
“You’ve just attempted to assassinate my Heir, and yet you tell me to spare your life?” The Emperor roared. “Who instructed you to do that! Was it your master?”
“Yes! I was commanded by the 7th Prince to poison the tea. I wasn’t aware that the Heir would really drink it!”
The 7th Prince stared in shock at the attendant before him. He did instruct the man to poison the Heir’s tea, but the man had reported his failure to do so due to the tight security around the Heir’s tentage.
“The 7th Prince, you say?” The Emperor slowly turned towards the prince. “Du’er, would you care to explain yourself?”
“Father, I am innocent! Please do not be deceived by them!” The 7th Prince fell to his knees.
Unexpectedly, the 8th Prince came forward as well. “Father, Seventh Brother will never do this! He treats Second Brother with the utmost respect – he will never do this!”
The Emperor closed his eyes, and ignored the 8th Prince. “I have never interfered with your affairs, despite knowing that you have been amassing your own followers and men, but how dare you assassinate the Heir! Are you trying to take his place?”
The 7th Prince froze for a second, but continued kowtowing to the Emperor. “I’d never even consider it, Father! Please believe me!”
A few other officials stepped forward to speak for the 7th Prince as well, but that only fueled the Emperor’s anger.
- An arrow that can be thrown into the air by hand, creating a loud whistling sound, mostly used as for signalling purposes. ↩
- Direct translation would be a poisonous tooth. It is akin to a pill hidden in their mouths that they can bite open to release a poison to commit suicide. ↩
- It is commonplace in Ancient China for the entire clan of major offenders to be slaughtered. The Chinese saying can be directly translated to be of “Nine relations”, where everyone bearing any distant link to the bloodline was to be killed as well. ↩