Chapter 243 - The Eccentric Old General Li
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At the Rong Estate.
Lu Jiang carried a red list and hurried towards the pavilion in the back courtyard where Jing Rong and Qin Shiyu were having a chat over tea.
“Investigation of the Lin Capital Case is finally beginning - the tombs on Lin Mountain have already been excavated, so now all we have to do is wait for Teacher Ji to complete his paintings. The sooner we know who the missing person is, the sooner we can start to work and pursue this case!” Qin Shiyu explained.
Jing Rong nodded, “It’s just going to take a bit more time.”
“We’ve waited fourteen years, what is just one more year?”
“Lord Qin is right.”
Both of them took a sip of tea. Qin Shiyu then continued, “Oh, His Majesty’s birthday banquet is just around the corner; has Your Highness already prepared his gift?”
He shook his head and replied, “There’s no hurry.”
Qin Shiyu was concerned and decided to remind Jing Rong, “If it were like the past few years, there would indeed be no need to hurry. But this year is different.”
Jing Rong smiled knowingly but asked anyway, “What does Lord Qin mean?”
Qin Shiyu wrinkled his brows. “In the current climate, all the officials, and even His Majesty, clearly understand that even though Your Highness has not participated in the race for the throne all these years, your character and actions do not pale in comparison to any other prince. But this year, you are being watched by countless people because of the re-investigation of the Lin Capital Case. Moreover, Teacher Ji is aiding you. He managed to convince the Emperor to order the excavation of the tombs on Lin Mountain during Concubine Xiao’s birthday banquet with his successful resolution of the Missing Girls Case, and then he further displayed his wits and prowess by negotiating during the conflicts with Qujiang. With such a character by your side, how could one not pay extra attention?”
As Jing Rong listened, his brows gradually knitted together. These were things he already knew, but they were also things that indicated his original plans had already gone awry. All he wanted was to bring Ji Yunshu into the capital to paint the portrait of those skeletal remains, keeping her separate from the court and politics, but somehow everything had gone wrong. He let out a slight sigh but did not address Qin Shiyu’s question.
They sat in silence until Qin Shiyu raised his eyebrows at Jing Rong as he suddenly remembered. “Old General Li is on his way to the capital.”
“What?” Jing Rong was shocked!
Qin Shiyu continued, “Old General Li has been residing in Qingzhou these past few decades, never once entering the capital no matter what happened. But this time, he is coming for His Majesty’s birthday.”
Strange! Jing Rong pondered, muttering, “Could it be because of the Lin Capital Case?”
“Didn’t Your Highness hear from Teacher Ji? Madame Jiang mentioned that the incident occured after the Imperial Duke returned from his visit to Old General Li in Qingzhou. There must be a connection between the two events, or otherwise, Old General Li would not return to the capital right after the excavation of the tombs. He is clearly here because of the Lin Capital Case!” Qin Shiyu was convinced.
His words rang with slivers of truth - a man, who had not set foot in the capital for ten years, appearing at this critical juncture just to present his gift to the Emperor, or even just for the Crown Princess selection? Who would believe that!
Jing Rong replied, “If he truly is here for the Lin Capital Case, then he has saved this Prince a trip to Qingzhou; I will find a time to have a chat with that eccentric old man when he has settled down in the capital.” Jing Rong took a sip of hot tea, and a smile appeared on his face. ‘Eccentric’ was not sufficient to describe this odd, old man; everyone knew that Old General Li was an oddball from his time in the court.
To illustrate what Old General Li was like, a few more words must be spared. If Jiang Ziya was already an odd character for using a straight hook to fish[1. The English translation doesn’t convey the full meaning of the first half of this Chinese proverb. Grand Duke Jiang fishes – those who are willing jump at the bait, which means "put one's own head in the noose". There is a double meaning in the Chinese raws. First, it compares how Jiang Ziya and Old General Li think outside of the box. Second, it hints at their crafty nature. The story the proverb stems from is in the next paragraph.
Jiang Ziya is a historical figure who assist the kings Wen and Wu of Zhou in overthrowing the last ruler of the Shang dynasty, King Zhou of Shang, who was a debauched tyrant which passed his days frolicking with his consort Daji. At that time, Jiang Ziya was already in his middle age and too old to gain King Wen’s thrust through years of efforts, thus in order to quickly gain King Wen’s recognition, he sat at the bank of Wei river near where King Wen hunted and used a straight hook to fish. Surprisingly, despite his odd way of fishing, he attracted a school of fishes which marveled King Wen who didn’t hesitate to recruit him. In the end, he helped destroyed the Shang dynasty, ushering them into the era of the Zhou Dynasty which last quite a few hundred years.
He was also greatly romanticised in The Investiture of the Gods, a similar fiction to Journey to the West, in which Daji is portrait as a fox demon(Hoshin Engi, anyone?). For much more information on Jiang Ziya, click here.], Old General Li would be someone who use a single fishline instead! To put it simply, he favoured psychological tactics - he understood that if one was desperate, then one would make the first move. He displayed many of these strategies on the battlefield, with his name spreading far and wide. His enemies would surrender upon hearing his name, as none of the brave warriors were willing to play his tortuous waiting game. It was these eccentricities on the battlefield that buoyed Old General Li’s rise and influence in the court up until he retired eighteen years ago.
Who knew if that oddball would show Jing Rong any face and share with him his last conversation with the deceased Imperial Duke. Otherwise, he would have to wait for him to bring up the matter personally, just like Liu Bei’s famed three visits to Zhuge Liang[2. Liu Bei and Zhuge Liang are historical characters during the Three Kingdoms Era but romanticised in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Liu Bei is the future ruler of Shu, one of the three states, and Zhuge Liang is his famed strategist. However, before Zhuge Liang accepted to follow Liu Bei, the latter had to visit him three times, showing his sincerity and determination.]. He could already imagine how troublesome that matter would be.
Qin Shiyu also had the same thoughts. He offered, “I had some dealings with the Old General Li in the past - I think, I should pay him a visit first to see if there is any chance of him sharing the information. If I fail, then Your Highness should go.”
Jing Rong nodded, “Sure!”
Just then, Lu Jiang came over, still hugging that red list. “Your Highness, the list is ready. Please have a look.”
Jing Rong flipped open the list. It was full of precious and expensive items; there were Nanyang gems, Southern Sea pearls, Min bottles, bamboo boats, thousand-layer curtains… the list was never-ending!
Jing Rong took a quick glance and closed the list, unsatisfied. “These are precious treasures, but are inappropriate as birthday gifts.”
Lu Jiang replied, “Your Highness, these are all rare treasures; how about offering them this year, Your Highness?”
“No!” He shot him down straight-away.
Qin Shiyu reached over from the opposite end of the table and had a look at the list. “Lu Jiang is not wrong - this year is different from the past few years. There is no need for Your Highness to be low-key this year.”
Jing Rong evidently thought otherwise. He smiled. “Even though this year is not the same as before, this Prince has no interest in either faction wars or gaining attention. Moreover, because I have been low-key all this time, if this year’s gift were to suddenly become more expensive, it would look too jarringly obvious. Lord Qin must have a good idea of what Imperial Father would think of this.”
Qin Shiyu nodded in agreement at these words. “Yes, Your Highness is wise. I have not thought this through carefully.” Qin Shiyu was ashamed at his mistake, but quickly added, “But, the more Your Highness wishes to avoid, the more you cannot.” With that, Qin Shiyu handed over the list to Lu Jiang.
Jing Rong’s smile did not fade. Intriguing.
Lu Jiang received the list, then asked Jing Rong, “Then about this year’s gift, Your Highness…”
Jing Rong’s eyes were fixed on the lotus pond in the distance. He mused at the sight of flowers blooming full of life and colour; spring had well and truly arrived! He pondered, then replied, ”There is still half a month; we need not hurry.” Jing Rong gestured his dismissal and Lu Jiang bowed before retiring.
Grenn's Rants Corner
Three more days before the deadline to submit your relationship chart for the contest.
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