This chapter was mostly written well in advance before some changes in direction, and thus I might not have caught the holes that might have resulted thereof. Apologies if it is confusing or lacking.

“I just wanted to be extremely clear so that everyone knows what's going on at any given time.”
--Basil Exposition

Chapter 193 – The general’s past

“There are no signs that Huang Ming is evacuating Beihai,” the subordinate continued.

Yin Yanzhao smiled. “Disappointing, but not unexpected.”

“My apologies general, but does this not affect your planning?” the subordinate ventured to ask.

Yin Yanzhao waved a hand dismissively. “No amount of planning can provide full certainty. In retrospect this move in trying to trick him to abandon Beihai and thus implicate himself was ambitious and extravagant.”

The subordinate did not respond to his remark, yet General Yin could see that he was uneasy.

“You are worried? You are probably wondering why I am so relaxed when the one pitfall in my path is still a hazard,” the general said.

The nameless subordinate shuddered, and Yin Yanzhao chuckled.

“I have already taken such variables into account. If he was so easily shaken then he would make a poor opponent. Though, it would have been nice if he had acted according to script. Now we have to make the necessary adjustments.”

“Sir, we are ready to carry out your orders,” the subordinate said.

The casual face on General Yin vanished, replaced with a cold look.

“Send word to our agents around Li Jing. It is clear that Huang Ming never trusted him at all,” he said.


Yin Yanzhao paused to reconfirm his conclusions. He wondered how many people had been tricked by Li Jing. There were many points in history where the central authority would be suspicious of a general or governor building up their own power base in a distant province. Yin Yanzhao’s outward leery attitude towards Li Jing was but a façade to assure the then Marshal Gao Fang that such a thing was not happening in Beihai: after all, how could General Yin form his own faction if he could not even get along with his second-in-command?

Yin Yanzhao had deliberately played up his uncomfortable working relationship with Li Jing, yet they were working hand-in-hand in the shadows. Li Jing was one of the many in the north who had grown disillusioned by the aloof and selfish central government of Wu, and it had been easy to convert him to Yin Yanzhao’s point of view.

Of course, the srih-chewing man could not have imagined that the famous northern patriot had far more grandiose, destructive dreams than just reforming the government and the military. Yin Yanzhao wanted to do much, much more; and Li Jing was but an expendable pawn in the grand scheme of things.

General Yin took a deep breath and decided.

“Huang Ming was completely prepared for the Jin attack. He may have sent Li Jing to get the reinforcements, but the fact that he never gave Li Jing any other plans meant he had seen through Li Jing’s acting. Either that, or he has never trusted him at all. In other words, Huang Ming never depended on Li Jing to return at all,” he expounded.

The subordinate nodded. “Then, should we silence him?”

“We need a scapegoat for all this, after all,” General Yin smiled coldly. “Tomorrow I will assure the king about how I have settled the triple invasion. Wei cannot breach Tigertrap Pass, while Chu was merely conducting exercises and the previous reports were just the work of overexcited scouts.”

“And the north?” the subordinate asked. “The Jins did really attack us…”

“Obviously, it’s the handiwork of Li Jing. The man had turned traitor and told the Jins to attack when Beihai is at its weakest,” Yin Yanzhao said in a flat tone.

The subordinate saluted and moved to leave the room. But after taking a few steps, he paused.

“Sir, what about… what about Miss Zhao Sunli?” he asked hesitantly.

Yin Yanzhao’s eyes narrowed. “What about her?”

“If you say Huang Ming have seen through Li Jing, could she be part of his plans too?”

“Do not beat around the bush. You are thinking that I am sweet on her, hmm?” Yin Yanzhao said.

“This subordinate does not dare!” the man hastened to kneel in abject apology.

“She is an intriguing creature, to be sure. An interesting diversion, but nothing more. Ultimately, she is not who I want,” the general said flatly.

‘Then, who do you want?’ the subordinate thought reflexively, but he managed to suppress the question.

“Dismissed,” the general ordered curtly, and the subordinate all but leapt to his feet and retreated.

Once the door closed, Yin Yanzhao turned his gaze out of the window once more.

“They will never know,” he whispered to himself, almost reassuringly. Then he smiled. “And even if they do, they will never believe it,” he chuckled as he poured himself a cup of tea.

He had made so many moves, so many deceitful plans, so many sacrifices and told many lies… Even those closest around him, even his trusted helpers would never realize the depths of his conspiracies.

General Yin Yanzhao was confident, because all those who knew of his past intimately had already perished. His father was killed by a Jin ambush… but who led him there? The previous fatuous governor of Beihai who was jealous of his fame and covetous of his daughter-in-law had compassed the sequence of events leading to the trap.

Yin Yanzhao’s eyes hardened and the grip on his tea cup tightened, the drink within trembled. He remembered…

“Father, let me go with you!” he had said.

“It is just a patrol. Beihai needs you while I am away. Besides, daughter-in-law is ill. Stay with your wife!”

And so Yin Yanzhao remained at home, while his father fell to the plot. When he heard of the news, he wailed with despair. Yin Yanzhao rode off to reclaim his father’s corpse. The days became weeks, yet Yin Yanzhao did not return.

While he was away, the dastardly governor of Beihai visited his home to ‘comfort’ the lady of the house.

“How could you do this?!” Lady Yin exclaimed in horror as the governor stalked her.

“Because I can,” he laughed.

Weakened by illness, Lady Yin could not put up much of a resistance.

“You had best kill me now, for when my husband returns you will pay for what you have done!” she swore.

To which the governor laughed. “If he returns at all! I have already arranged the death of your patriarch, do you really think I would not do the same to your husband?”

Driven to despair, she committed suicide. The governor was not overly worried: all those privy to the events were paid off or sent away. The Yin father-and-son who had eclipsed him for so long were both gone, and the King of Wu was far too troubled with Prime Minister Tong Xuan and Marshal Gao Fang to know the truth.

Little did the governor dream that Yin Yanzhao survived the assassination attempt. He had defeated the assassins but would have perished if not discovered by Jin scouts.

“This is the son of the honoured enemy,” they exclaimed, and hastened to send him to the Jin capital to be treated.

Later he learned that the Jins had rescued him because they held the Yin Family in high esteem: redoubtable foes that were worth fighting. The Jin warlord who had killed his father had already been deposed and executed for participating in courtly intrigue.

Yin Yanzhao laughed like a madman, who was he supposed to take his revenge on?

“He was not the only responsible,” a female voice told him.

He saw it was a young slip of a girl. So young, yet her eyes were penetrating his soul.

But the words from her lips were earth-shattering. The governor of Beihai conspired with the warlord to kill his father? Why?

Then he understood. He had seen the lust in the governor’s eyes, how he had ogled at his wife. Now he had left her all alone in his clutches!

“You are too weak to return in current state. Rest, while we ascertain what had happened,” the young girl told him.

The days passed agonizingly, yet Yin Yanzhao was comforted by the girl who visited him regularly. She came to ask questions about Wu, showing interest in its politics and noted personages. Not exactly the topics of a girl of her age.

Disillusioned by what had happened to him, Yin Yanzhao saw no reason to deny her. He answered everything she had asked him.

“Why do you want to know all this?”

“Because one day we will sweep southwards,” she said imperiously.

He wanted to laugh, but there was steel in her words.

“I still do not know your name…”

“My name is Jin Hua.”

He learned that this young girl was the daughter of the Prime Minister of Jin, soon to be the Princess of Jin. He cannot help but be mesmerized, for she was the most beautiful female he had ever seen.

Once more she shattered his heart when she told him that his wife had died under suspicious circumstances. Knowing what he knew now, there was little to doubt that the governor of Beihai was responsible.

“What do you plan to do now?” Jin Hua asked.

“I will go kill him,” he said, his teeth clenched so tightly that they threatened to crack.

She nodded in approval.

“And then?”

“I don’t know,” he said, unsure why he had answered honestly.

“I will not insult you by asking you to repay me by betraying your country. Go, you are free to return to Beihai and extract your revenge. Do it cleanly, then grieve loudly later. Let the future decide the rest,” Jin Hua said.

She turned around and left, and that was the last he had seen her.

He stealthily made his return to Beihai and slew the governor in his sleep. As she had advised, he did it quickly and cleanly. There was no dramatic encounter, no theatrics.

One stab, and the governor was dead. A single stroke of the sword, almost poetic in the sense he was also cutting his ties to Wu. He then sneaked back out, and made a show of returning to Beihai publicly.

Once more he followed her advice and made a public spectacle of his grief, before pulling himself together to take charge of Beihai.

She kept to her word and did not ask for the unthinkable. She did not need to ask, because Yin Yanzhao had already promised in his heart to give it to her.

She wanted to sweep southwards?

Then he will pave the way…

General Yin Yanzhao blinked as he returned to the present.

‘Are you doing well?’ he wondered.

He did so much, yet when his own contacts told him of her interest in Huang Ming he could not help but feel his heart tighten. Not even her marriage to the Prince of Jin elicited such feelings from him.

It was Yin Yanzhao who had donned black clothings and rescued Nangong Xie. Someone who bore hatred against Huang Ming could prove useful. Nangong Xie was still a scholar of some repute, and his survival meant he would be a thorn in Huang Ming’s side for some time. A win-win for Yin Yanzhao.

It was Yin Yanzhao who had met the Princess of Jin’s spies and told them to kidnap Huang Ming. If they had succeeded, there would be opportunities for Huang Ming to meet an ‘accident’. But naturally they botched it and their ends would serve to turn the Princess’s interest to anger; and Huang Ming would surely never bend his knee to serve her. A win-win for Yin Yanzhao.

It was Yin Yanzhao who had arranged Beihai’s defences to be weakened and its army stripped, causing the Prince of Jin to risk a winter assault. It was a foolhardy gamble which he encouraged. If the Prince had succeeded in capturing Beihai, Yin Yanzhao would earn merits. If the prince failed, it would diminish the Prince’s standing. A win-win for Yin Yanzhao.

It was Yin Yanzhao who spread the rumours of a triple invasion. He was already in command of the capital, it was a simple matter to report falsely to the King of Wu. The kingdom of Wei was threatening Tigertrap Pass, but that had always been the case. The kingdom of Chu was acting belligerently across the southern river, but that had always been the norm. All he did was exaggerate and modify a report or two before reporting them to the king.

The first rays of the dawn hit his eyes, and he blinked. He had wasted an entire night reminiscing. He was annoyed with himself, for there were many things to be done.

“Life is wasted on the living,” he muttered.

A man driven to despair,
No mercy to spare.​