hapter 1: A Destitute Scholar

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In the sixteenth year of Xiande, Suiyun leaves Jiangxia for Jianye1 to take the imperial examinations. 

– Southern Chu Dynastic Records, Biography of Jiang Suiyun

In the sixteenth year of Southern Chu’s Xiande era, the world remained under turmoil, though the situation had become clear.
The majority of the territory south of the Yangtze River was occupied by Southern Chu, while the land north of the river was controlled by the Great Yong Dynasty.2 The city of Jiangxia was the strategic lynchpin of Southern Chu’s defenses against Great Yong.
The residence of the garrison commander, the Marquis Who Suppresses Distant Lands, Lu Xin, was the center of these defenses and was heavily guarded at all times. 

Although my position as the Marquis’s family tutor was not low, I still had to obey military directives, and remained inside the study to avoid getting caught in any troubles.
While flipping through the pages of the book, I calculated the time remaining until lunch. 

As a ranking military commander, Marquis Lu had no choice but to leave his family in the capital of Jianye to serve as hostages.
Only the Marquis’s fifteen-year-old son, Lu Can, was allowed by the imperial court to accompany his father as a personal guard.
Although Lu Can was my student, as the son of a military family, he was also naturally educated in warfare.
Today, the Marquis had called a military conference and had brought Lu Can along to listen and learn.
I had no recourse but to remain in the study waiting for him to return, having agreed to eat together once the conference ended.
Even though it was noon, none of those attending the conference had eaten yet.
If I, a lowly family tutor, ate beforehand, Lu Can would likely kick up a storm and use the opportunity to plot against me.
It was better to wait for him. 

Thinking of this point, I touched my stomach and sighed helplessly.
How could a father and son differ so much? Whereas Lu Xin was generous and magnanimous, Lu Can fussed over minor matters.
The last time Lu Can was punished by the Marquis, he saw me laughing.
The next day, Lu Can tricked me into a brothel on the pretext of relaxation and completion of the traditional three year mourning period for my father.
If I had not fled at the first opportunity, I would have lost my virginity. 

Bored, I flipped through the book, while allowing my imagination to run wild.
Although the Marquis’s study was not bad, I had pored over all of the books over the last three years.
Unfortunately, since the family was a military one, the study only contained easily obtainable books.
I guessed that they probably had the bookstore bring them a copy of everything.
Why else could they possess almanacs and yet have no books of value? 

I was counting the time by the size of the shadows when Lu Can’s attendant, Lu Zhong, arrived to inform me of the conclusion of the conference.
Lu Xin had invited his subordinates to a feast.
As Lu Can was allowed to join in, I did not have to wait for him.
I gladly agreed.
Not caring that the food had gotten cold, I swiftly began devouring my lunch. 

Just as I was enjoying my meal, a commotion broke out in the nearby hall.
I did not pay much attention in the beginning, but the noise got louder and louder.
Suddenly, I heard a voice shout out, “Capture the assassin, capture the assassin!” My heart skipped a beat.
Oh crap, the assassin was undoubtedly targeting the Marquis.
The Marquis was currently my patron; he mustn’t be killed.
Knowing that I did not have the ability to protect the Marquis, I decided it was best to remain hidden.
However, my heart remained apprehensive and I grabbed an elaborately crafted crossbow from the bookshelf.
This crossbow was engineered by Southern Chu’s Ministry of Works3 and not only possessed a range of a hundred paces, but also could shoot up to five bolts in succession.
Originally a gift to Lu Can from the Marquis, Lu Can did not like to use the crossbow, deeming the weapon insufficiently above board and gifting it to me instead.
As I did not know any martial arts, I could not use a bow and arrow.
This crossbow was definitely my favorite. 

Loading the bolts, I opened the window slightly.
The study was not far from the nearby hall.
Outside, swords and spears filled the courtyard.
A large group of soldiers in red surrounded two men in servant attire.
Before long, Marquis Lu arrived with his subordinates, a bloodstained piece of cloth wrapped around his right arm, his face pale white.
The Marquis's personal guard, Lu Ping, was nowhere to be seen.
Lu Can supported the Marquis from the left, looking enraged.
From the situation, I deduced that two assassins disguised as servants attending to the feast had attempted to accomplish their mission.
It was likely that Lu Ping had performed his duty and had sacrificed himself. 

I was focusing on the scene when the two assassins exchanged facial expressions.
Suddenly, they took out two black beads and threw them on the ground, engulfing the space with white smoke.
Just then, I noticed the murderous expression on the face of a deputy general standing close to Marquis Lu.
A dagger slid out from his sleeve into his hand.
Recognizing the situation, I yelled out, “My Lord Marquis, be careful!” At the same time that I shouted the warning, I fired the crossbow.
A scream followed.
After the smoke had dissipated, everyone saw that the two assassins remained surrounded.
The deputy general was collapsed on the floor half a step behind the Marquis.
A bolt had pierced his heart.
Clutched tightly in his hand was a dagger with a blue colored edge (poison).
Even a blind man could tell what the deputy general had been planning. 

The two assassins could not hope to escape the encirclement.
Under the gaze of the Marquis, they fought to the death.
After ordering his subordinates to deal with the corpses, he brought me to White Tiger Hall. 

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Giving me a complicated look, he spoke, “Thank you, Suiyun, for saving my4 life.” 

I replied modestly.
“You are blessed for your virtues, and thus escaped harm.
I6 merely caught it by chance.” 

“How did Suiyun know that that man would attempt to assassinate me5?” Marquis Lu suspiciously asked.
This was something he could not understand. 

How? Of course because I saw it.
But I could not say this.
This was my secret defense mechanism.
My six senses were sharper than normal people.
To put it simply, I could hear the leaves falling within a hundred paces, I could see vivid details several li6 away, I could identify any taste with just a small sample, I could track a person eight to ten liwith my sense of smell.
Sometimes, I wondered if I was even human.
I also knew that these acute senses could produce jealousy and hatred in others.
You wouldn’t want anyone listening to your private conversations.
In order to protect myself, I had never let anyone know about my acute senses aside from my deceased father. 

Therefore, I lied, “It was a coincidence.
I grabbed the crossbow in order to protect myself.
When I saw the two assassins release the smoke, I realized that something was off.
Regardless of their ability, there was no way that the assassins could escape.
Releasing the smoke was undoubtedly to give someone else the opportunity to perform the assassination.
I judged that there was another assassin near my Lord Marquis and cried out in panic.
I realized that there was no one behind my lord at the time, giving the assassin an opportunity to complete his mission, so I fired the crossbow.
Luckily my Lord Marquis was blessed with virtue, and I was able to kill the assassin.” 

Though skeptical, the Marquis nodded his head and allowed me to leave.
Later, I learned that the assassins were dispatched by Great Yong.
Bribing the deputy general, they wanted to assassinate the Marquis.
With the Marquis dead, Jiangxia would have been leaderless.
They would have seized the opportunity to attack.
Who could guess that this perfectly planned assassination would fail? The Yong army could only retreat. 

Witnessing my cleverness, Lu Xin sought for me to remain and serve as one of his advisors.
After thinking it over, I declined.
Jiangxia was only a river away from Yong controlled territory.
Battles were frequent.
If they unluckily lost a battle, what was I going to do? Furthermore, if Great Yong learned that I was the one to save the Marquis, I would be killed by assassins.
What could I do then? Of course, I could not give these reasons.
Instead, I spoke of my father’s regret in failing to attain scholarly honors7 and of my decision to sit for the imperial examinations.
Using such a high-sounding and dignified8 reason, no one could hinder my decision.
Therefore, Lu Xin not only dispatched people to my home prefecture of Jiaxing to obtain qualification to take the exam, but also gave me travel expenses to head to Jianye two months in advance.
For my safety, he even allowed me to travel with the supply personnel.
With no alternative, I could only follow them eastward.
On the way, I pretended to catch a cold.
Stating that I wanted to rest and recuperate for two days, and with ample time still remaining, I took the opportunity to regain my freedom. 

I was not stupid.
In the ninth year of Xiande, Southern Chu submitted to Great Yong, removing the title of “emperor” and using the title of “king,” instead.
There were currently rumors that the King wished to restore his imperial prerogatives.
This decision would certainly antagonize Great Yong and spark war.
Although I did not wish to go to war, I did understand much of the art of war.
Great Yong’s army was strong, while Southern Chu from the king to his officials drowned themselves in alcohol and fantasies.9 The generals and officers feared death.
Even the famed general, Marquis Lu, had numerous subordinates who were cowards.
Several times, the furious Marquis Lu wanted to execute these individuals, but could not do so due to the influence of their families and clans, and could only continue to allow them to serve.
Taking the imperial examination at this time? Pfft, I did not want to serve as a minister of a subjugated state. 

Sitting on the deck of a boat with my arms around my legs, I comfortably enjoyed the cool evening river breeze.
Aboard this type of mid-sized boat, the lower decks were filled with cargo, while the upper decks were partitioned into passenger cabins.
It was certainly more comfortable than the specialized passenger boats, though more expensive.
But with several hundred taels10 in my pocket, easily more than enough, I allowed myself to be extravagant for once.
Gazing at the clear bright moon and the starry sky, I suddenly had a poetic inspiration and recited:

“The grass by the shore gently sway in the breeze, 
The mast of the boat stands tall and alone at night. 
Stars fall to the fields that spread far and wide, 
The moon rises from the great river’s flow. 
Have my literary works not made any mark? 
A court official should retire when old and sick. 
What is a man without purpose and responsibility? 
A gull between heaven and earth.”11

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As I finished reciting the poem, I heard clapping and applause from behind me.
Turning my head to look, I saw a young man standing there.
Despite the dim light of the moon, I could see clearly with my heightened sight that he was a handsome and majestic young man.
Even though he was wearing casual attire, his aura was not ordinary.
I could not help but feel that he was more majestic than Marquis Lu.
Moreover, he had an astonishing charisma that made one feel as if he was being cleansed by a spring breeze.
It made me feel ashamed about myself.
He possessed a normal physique that could be blown over by wind, with delicate handsome features.
No matter how I looked, he seemed to be no more than a fragile scholar.
This was a time of warfare and disorder.
What most attracted girls were handsome young masters12 who were adept with both pen and sword.
Even a barely literate warrior was more attractive compared to me as long as he looked slightly refined.
How did I know? Of course, because the maids in the Marquis’s mansion never gave me a second look. 

I stood up and apologized, “My apologies for interrupting your rest.” 

The young man shook his head and said, “Don’t say that.
I would have missed young master’s great poem.
Is this young master’s work? 

While delighted at heart, I responded humbly, “This clumsy work is unrefined.13 I have embarrassed myself before your distinguished self.” 

The young man observed me for a long time before speaking, “Your literary talent is exceptional for one so young.
You have my resp

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