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7

Immediately after seeing the Empress Dowager out of the Martial Hero Pavilion, Qian Long called for his bodyguards. Bai Zhen came forward to report.

"Master Chen has escorted the lady back to the palace, and she is now awaiting Your Highness in the Precious Moon Pavilion," he said.

Qian Long was delighted with the news and walked briskly to the door of the Martial Hero Pavilion. Then he stopped and turned. "Was there any trouble on the road?" he asked.

"Your slaves came across a large number of Red Flower Society fighters at one point, but luckily, Master Chen intervened and prevented an incident."

When Qian Long arrived at the Precious Moon Pavilion, he found Princess Fragrance seated as before, facing the wall.

"Did you have fun at the Great Wall?" he asked happily. She ignored him. Qian Long decided to deal with more pressing matters first before questioning her further. He went into the adjoining room and gave orders for his favourite, Fu Kangan, to be summoned.

Before too long, Fu rushed in and Qian Long ordered him to lead a troop of Imperial Guardsmen and lay an ambush around the Lama Temple. After he had departed, Qian Long ordered Bai Zhen to also hide near the temple.

"I intend to hold a great feast in the Lama Temple tomorrow evening," he added. "Tell Master Chen and all of the senior Red Flower Society people to attend."

Bai Zhen immediately guessed the Emperor intended to deal with all the Red Flower Society leaders at one stroke and shuddered at the thought of the slaughter that would take place.

"Also," Qian Long added, "summon the Head Lama of the temple immediately."

As the old Lama kowtowed his way into the Imperial presence, Qian Long asked: "How many years is it since you came to the capital?"

"Your vassal has served the Emperor for twenty-one years."

"Do you want to go back to Tibet?"

The Lama kowtowed again but said nothing.

"There are two Living Buddhas in Tibet, the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama," Qian Long continued. "Why isn't there a third?"

"Your Highness, that has always been the way, ever since"

Qian Long silenced him with a wave of his hand. "If I made you the third Living Buddha and gave you an area to govern, no-one would dare to defy the order, would they?"

The Lama's joy soared to the skies, and he kowtowed furiously, unable to believe his luck. "Your Reverence's benevolence will be difficult to repay," he said.

"I want you now to do something for me. Go back to the temple and gather together all your trusted lamas and prepare gunpowder, firewood and other inflammable materials." He pointed at Bai Zhen. "When he gives you the signal, you will put the temple to the torch."

The Head Lama began frantically kowtowing again, this time in fright. "But it is the former residence of the late Emperor," he protested. Many of his possessions are there, I wouldn't dare"

"Do you dare to disobey my command?" Qian Long roared, sending the old Lama into a cold sweat.

"II will do as Your Highness commands," he replied in a quavering voice.

"If half a breath of this matter leaks out, I will have you and every single one of your eight hundred lamas executed." After a moment, he added in a more friendly tone: "There will be Banner troops guarding the Suicheng Pavilion in your temple, so you must be careful. When the time comes, I want those troops trapped inside and burned to death. When things have been successfully completed, you will be the third Living Buddha of Tibet. Now go!" He waved his hand and the Lama left with Bai Zhen, thanking the Emperor for his benevolence as he went.

His preparations completed, Qian Long considered how his plan would enable him to kill two birds with one stone, both the Red Flower Society and the Dowager's forces. After tomorrow evening, his position secured and stable, he could continue his reign in peace.

He felt very satisfied. Looking round, he noticed a lute sitting on a tabletop and went over to play it. After a few phrases, his playing became increasingly strident and aggressive, and with a twang, the seventh string broke. He started in surprise and laughed loudly. Then, pushing the lute aside, he stood up and walked back to the other room.

Princess Fragrance was sitting at the window staring up at the moon. As she heard his footsteps, there was a glint of light as she pulled the dagger out again. Qian Long frowned and sat down at a distance.

"When you and Master Chen were at the Great Wall, did he tell you to kill me?"

"He told me to do as you said."

"Are you going to disobey him?"

"I would never do that."

Qian Long was both delighted and jealous. "Then why are you still carrying the dagger? Give it to me!"

"No, I'll wait for you to become a good emperor first."

Aha, thought Qian Long, so that's how he hopes to control me. Anger, jealousy, lust and hatred rose within him all at once, and he laughed harshly. "I am already a good emperor," he replied.

"Huh! I heard you playing the lute just now. You're going to kill people, you're going to kill many, many people. You'reyou are evil."

Qian Long realised that his thoughts had indeed revealed themselves through his playing. "Yes," he replied. "I am going to kill people. I have already caught your Master Chen, but if you do as I say, I can release him. If you don't do as I say" He laughed again. "Then you know I will kill many people."

Princess Fragrance was shocked. "You would kill your own blood brother?" she asked in a quavering voice.

Qian Long's face went white. "So he told you everything?"

"I don't believe you've caught him. He's much cleverer than you."

"Cleverer? Huh! And even if I haven't got him today, what about tomorrow?" She did not answer. "I advise you to forget this idea," he went on. "Whether I'm a good emperor or a bad emperor, you are never going to see him again."

"But you promised him that you would be a good emperor," Princess Fragrance protested. "How can you renege on your promise?"

"I will do whatever I want," he roared. "No-one can tell me what to do." All his pent up anger from the humiliating audience with the Dowager spilled out.

His words struck Princess Fragrance like a fist-blow to the chest. "So the Emperor is going to cheat him," she thought in anguish. "If only we had known earlier, I wouldn't have had to come back here." She almost fainted at the shock of it.

Seeing her face suddenly go pale, Qian Long immediately regretted being so coarse. "If you will treat me well," he said, "I will naturally not harm him. In fact, I will make him a senior official and allow him to become rich and powerful."

But Princess Fragrance was not listening. She was trying to work out a way of letting Chen know of the Emperor's deceitfullness, so that he wouldn't fall into a trap. She frowned deep in thought, her expression adding to the beauty of her face, and Qian Long stared at her, mesmerized.

"Everyone in the palace is a servant of the Emperor," she thought. "So who can deliver a letter for me? There's only one way to do it."

"So you promise not to harm him?" she said.

Qian Long was delighted. "I promise, I promise," he replied immediately. There was not the slightest touch of sincerity in his voice, and Princess Fragrance glanced at him in hatred.

"Early tomorrow, I want to go to a mosque," she said evenly. "I will only do as you say after I have prayed to Allah."

Qian Long smiled. "All right," he replied. "But there is to be no more delay after tomorrow."

Princess Fragrance watched him leave, laughing as he went, then found a pen and paper and wrote out a letter to Chen warning him of the Emperor's intentions, and telling him that the plan to overthrow the Manchus was just a dream. She urged him to quickly devise away to rescue her. When she had finished, she wrapped the letter in a blank sheet of paper and wrote on it in the Moslem script: "Please deliver speedily to the Great Helmsman of the Red Flower Society, Chen Jialuo." She knew the respect all Muslims had for her father and sister, and the way in which they worshipped her herself, and felt certain that if she just had a chance to pass the letter on to any Muslim in the mosque, they would certainly find a way to deliver it.

Having written the letter, her heart felt much easier. She was certain Chen was capable of anything and would easily find a way to rescue her. At that point, a sense of indescribable warmth and sweetness swept over her, and tired out from the day's exertions, she fell fast asleep.

Through the mists of slumber, she became aware of bells chiming around the palace, and opened her eyes to find the sky was already growing light. Hurriedly, she arose and washed herself, then combed her hair. The maid servants went to look after her knew she would allow no-one near her and watched from a distance. She carefully secreted the letter in her sleeve and then left the pavilion. Eunuchs were already waiting outside with a palanquin and took her to the mosque on the West Avenue of Eternal Peace while bodyguards crowded round both before and aft.

Seeing the round dome of the mosque as she descended from the palanqin, she felt both happiness and anguish. She walked through the mosque's entrance with head bowed and noticed two men walking on either side of her. They were dressed as Muslims, and she was about to pass the letter to one of them, then stopped herself. His features and manner were not at all those of her people. She glanced at the other man and saw he was the same.

"Were you sent by the Emperor to guard me?" she asked quietly in the Muslim tongue. Both men nodded, not understanding what she had said.

Disappointed, she turned round and saw there were another eight palace guards dressed as Muslims behind her, and that all the real Muslims were being kept at a safe distance. She walked over to the chief Imam of the mosque and said: "Please make sure this letter is delivered no matter what happens." The Imam started in shock as Princess Fragrance pushed the letter into his hand. A guard rushed forward and snatched the letter away and gave the Imam a heavy push on the chest, causing him to stumble and almost fall. The other worshippers looked at each other in surprise, wondering what was going on.

"What do you people think you're doing?" the Imam demanded angrily.

"Mind your own business," the guard hissed at him. "We are from the palace."

Severely frightened, the Imam did not dare to say another word, and turned to lead the gathering in prayer.

Princess Fragrance knelt down with the others and tears welled out of her eyes like water from a spring. In the midst of her pain and sorrow only one thought remained: "How can I warn him to be on his guard? I must let him know even if I die doing it, but how?"

"By dying!" The realisation streaked across her brain like a flash of lightning. "If I die here, word will get out and he will hear of it. That's it. There's no other way!"

Then the Prophet's words sounded in her ears like thunder: "Those who take their own life will fall into the eternal fires and will never escape." She was not afraid of death, and believed that people who died could ascend to Paradise and be re-united with their loved ones for eternity. But with suicide, there was nothing to look forward to but never-ending pain!

A violent shiver ran through her and she suddenly felt extremely cold. She listened for a moment to the congregation reciting the scriptures.

For a true religious believer there is nothing more terrible than the consignment of the soul to eternal Hell, but she could see no other way. Love overcame the greatest fear of all.

"Most sacred and Holy Allah," she whispered. "It is not that I don't believe you care for me. But there is no other way except by using my own blood."

She took the dagger out of her sleeve and on the stone in front of her, carved out the words "Don't trust the Emperor." Then she lightly called out the word "Brother!" and thrust the blade into the purest, most beautiful breast in this world.


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