Chapter 4: Divine Talent
long diên / ambergris [涎香] – a wax-like substance that originates as a secretion in the intestines of the sperm whale, found floating in tropical seas and used in perfume manufacture
nhi / ~er [~儿] – a prefix used for a young person
While Mei Chang Su and Princess Nihuang were taking in the sites at the top floor of Yingfeng Tower, the mindset of the youths in the brocade tent of the Marquis of Ning was full of worry. As soon as he returned, they all stood up and surrounded him.
“What did the Princess say to you?” Yan Yujin nosily asked first.
Mei Chang Su smiled mysteriously, winked and said, “The Princess complimented me by saying that I’m like a qilin…”
“Qilin?” Yan Yujin stood dumbfounded a moment. “The mysterious creature that isn’t like a deer, isn’t like a horse, isn’t like a cow but also not like a donkey? Are you sure she is complimenting you?
“What nonsense are you talking about?” Xie Bi pushed him aside, “The Princess complimented him for being a divine talent!”
Mei Chang Su glanced at the Xie second young master without saying a word. Xie Bi immediately reacted, face turning red when he realised he had outspoken.
Only Yan Yujin couldn’t be bothered continuing to question him and called Mei Chang Su to a side to tell him about the previous matches that were interesting. Even Xiao Jingrui who didn’t seem to react, pretended to not hear anything, only turning away to call for a servant to bring hot tea in.
Mei Chang Su couldn’t help but to close off his emotions.
Yan Yujin and Xiao Jingrui, one scruffy without any intentions, the other soft and simple, kind and generous, but both were more sensitive than Xie Bi who had fallen into the scheming of politics. At least they still knew what things that even though heard, should pretend as if not to have heard.
Obviously since Xie Bi knew of the words divine talent, it was enough to show his position within Prince Yu’s camp was relatively high.
Because whether it be the Crown Prince or Royal Prince, if the situation of obtaining a divine talent reached the ears of the Son of heaven then it would definitely be breaking taboo of the Emperor. Therefore, aside form those closest to them, those two would never allow others to know this secret.
Even Princess Nihuang, Mei Chang Su could still not guess as to how she found out.
“…afterwards he immediately jumped out of the way, in the end his opponent couldn’t do anything to him. But he forgot that he was on a platform high up in the air, while jumping around, he suddenly slipped and fell off. Ha ha ha…” Yan Yujin laughed loudly for a while, then suddenly his expression turned dark and became angry, “Su xiong, did you hear anything I said?”
“Isn’t it funny?”
“But you didn’t laugh!”
“I’m laughing now…”
Xiao Jingrui came by and punched Yan Yujin, “Su xiong has better temperament and smiles gently. Do you think everyone is like you, every time you laugh you seem to simply roll around on the floor?”
Yan Yujin was contemplating his counter argument when Xie Bi coughed gently and lowered his voice saying, “Crown Prince and His royal Highness Prince Yu are on their way.”
Inside, the tent immediately became quiet, Mei Chang Su slowly stood up and raised his voice saying, “Fei Liu, the people arriving are guests, don’t stop them.”
A simple “Yes” had just come from outside when someone loudly proclaimed, “Their highnesses the Crown Prince and Prince Yu have arrived.”
Two people, one in front and one at the back entered the tent. With a single look, you could tell they were brothers. Their stature was tall and healthy, both with thin lips and deep set eyes.
Crown Prince, Xiao Jingxuan was 30 years old this year with a cold temperament, and Prince Yu, Xiao Jinghuan’s expression was just slightly brighter, having just entered, immediately attempted to give off an easy smile.
Everyone in the tent paid their respects at once, and of course was immediately helped up.
“Jingrui and Yujin, you’ve jut returned from another adventure right? I really envy you.” Prince Yu had used to follow orders by looking after the group of small children of the imperial family whilst in the royal study. That’s why he had closer relations with those here than the Crown Prince. He joked whilst clapping XIao Jingrui on the shoulder. “I’ve heard that you three have brought a special guest to the capital, it’s just that nowadays it’s so busy that I haven’t had the time to come and visit.”
The Crown Prince’s lips quivered slightly.
What does he mean no time? If it wasn’t for the two sides constantly keeping watch and subduing each other, he would have run over as soon as Xie Bi had notified him. Even still, the day after he had gone to the Empress to try and help in his persuasion, he heard that they had declined to see them.
“This person here is Su xiansheng isn’t it? He is indeed very elegant.” Prince Yu continued to smile happily. “The fourteen states of Jiangzuo have continued to be peaceful for many years, the people are warm and full, all of it is owing to your alliance’s help. I had wanted to report this to His Majesty so that he can reward you. Just that I am afraid you are a proud people, with disregard for reputation so have yet to decide on my own.”
Mei Chang Su emotionlessly replied, “I, Su Zhe, have come to the capital with friends. It is nothing related to the Jiangzuo Alliance. I hope that Prince Yu won’t misunderstand.”
Seeing that Prince Yu had been left speechless, the Crown Prince immediately seized the opportunity to interject, “There are no truer words, Su xiansheng is Su xiansheng, why talk about such things? I’ve heard that you have been ill, coming to the capital was to travel and enjoy yourself, I wonder what places you have visited?”
“Ah, this subject has taken Su xiong around the capital visiting the sights of Luosi street, the music theatre, Shangxu city, the Confucious temple and even the pool, we have been to them all.” Yan Yujin naively replied.
“These places are all places you like to go and play.” The Crown Prince looked at Yan Yujin reproachfully. “Su xiansheng is a noble person, why would he like those lowly ordinary places? Speaking of beautiful sights in Jinling, you must mention the area just outside the city walls. It’s a shame that for the most part, they have been built into the palace. If you are interested, please accept this jade token. even though there is no great use for it but it is useful in opening doors.”
Although he spoke as if with reservation but the jade token that had just been presented, was there anyone who didn’t know the value of it? Xie Bi’s eyebrows twitched, he couldn’t help but turn to look at Prince Yu.
Momentarily defeated, Prince Yu tightened his lips, and coldly waited to see Mei Chang Su’s reaction.
He only saw the chief of the Jiangzuo Alliance use the tips of his fingers to take hold of the token, a smile appeared fleetingly on his face, then he called, “Fei Liu!”
In the blink of an eye, the cold young man appeared next to Mei Chang Su. The young masters were used to it so didn’t react, but the two princes jerked in surprise.
“Here, take this. Later on, when our Fei Liu goes out to play, you can go anywhere, if there is any uncle that bullies you, just show them this token. Will you remember?”
“Ok, you can go play now.”
Everyone saw him vaguely for a moment, then he disappeared, shadow and all.
The Crown Prince sat there stunned for a moment, his expression hard to watch, whilst Prince Yu’s face seemed as if he was trying hard not to laugh.
That jade token was one that was stamped with the seal of the Emperor. Other than the Crown Prince, even the other princes didn’t have the fortune of being bestowed one by the Emperor. It was a status symbol. With this seal token, wherever you went you could make people bow.
Yet this generous gift was given to his bodyguard to go and play, you couldn’t tell whether it was because he didn’t know it’s value or he wasn’t giving face to the Crown Prince…
“Actually, going sightseeing is also very strenuous.” Now it was Prince Yu’s turn to attempt to lighten up the atmosphere. “Su xiansheng should still nurse your body back to health first. It just so happens that I am in possession of the root of a thousand year knotgrass, very nutritious. On the other hand, in my Mountain Palace residence there is a hot-spring often used to recover from illnesses. Bathing often in there has a lot of benefits for the spirit and body, even Imperial Father can’t stop complimenting it. If you aren’t opposed, I would like to invite you over some time. At the same time, I would like to discuss with you about literature and learn from the person at the top position of Lang Ya hall’s top scholar list.”
As soon as he made the suggestion, even Xiao Jingrui couldn’t help but react.
Thinking back on the way over, every time he became tired, Mei Chang Su would heave a long sigh and face turned white. Also, he would often cough throughout the night. The thousand year knotgrass root and hot-spring of Mountain Palace was obviously an enticement that was hard to decline.
“These days you’ve been so busy, isn’t it because Imperial Father thinks highly of your abilities that he has continuously given you various errands?” The Crown Prince sneered, “How would you have the time to take Su xiansheng to your Mountain Palace?”
“Imperial brother has no need to worry, the two issues of the Ministry of War and state of Qi have been taken care of. Yesterday, I have already presented it to Imperial Father, and prepared to present it to imperial brother today. Regarding the case of the Duke of Qing, the lieutenant sent there has yet to return. For the moment, it is not possible to open the case. These past few days have been an idle period, after all, should I not receive a few days of rest?” Prince Yu smilingly answered with an extremely respectful attitude, but caused the Crown Prince to hate him to the point of grinding his teeth. The more he looked, the more he wanted hurt him. If only there was no one around, then he could slap him a few times.
“I kindly accept your Highness, Prince Yu’s kindness,” Mei Chang Su looked at the two who seemed like close brothers on the outside, but were like a pair of cocks fighting. He slowly bent forward in ceremony, “It’s just that my prescription is one given by physician Xun Zhen especially to me, it’s not possible to supplement it. Thousand year knotgrass root is a precious and rare item, it can’t be wasted like that. As for the hot-spring at Mountain Palace, maybe I shall write to ask physician Xun Zhen a bit. If he agrees that it’s ok, then I may take up on your Highness’ hospitality.”
Seeing that Mei Chang Su also declined Prince Yu, the Crown Prince immediately felt more relaxed, quickly saying, “That’s right, prescribing medicine is not something that you can do as you wish. It’s not possible to take any precious medicine you see and consume it, or to see hot or cold water and immediately jump in. If your residence has no physician better than physician Xun Zhen, then don’t suggest to Su xiansheng things that may harm his health.”
Prince Yu knew that Mei Chang Su would not make his bias clear as to which side he would support in front of the Crown Prince, so today was merely the opportunity for everyone to meet face to face. Both sides assessing the other with the issue of choosing a side bubbling beneath, they couldn’t be too hasty. He suddenly laughed and gave a generous look, “This really is negligent on my part, it’s a shame there isn’t any wine here, otherwise I would definitely take three cups as punishment.”
The Crown Prince stood up, saying, “Jinghuan, Su xiansheng came today to watch the contest, we shouldn’t impose on him further, let’s go.”
Prince Yu thought for a moment, even though the Crown Prince’s jade token that was gifted to Mei Chang Su had been passed on to his bodyguard, but it could still be seen as being accepted. How could he be defeated, he immediately glanced at Xie Bi.
“That’s right, Su xiong,” Xie Bi took the hint and immediately called out, “Haven’t you always wanted to visit and pay tribute to high scholar Li Chong? I remember he had some manuscripts…”
“I have them at my residence, at my residence.” Prince Yu immediately responded. “ High scholar Li Chong is also someone that I greatly admire, so I have collected a few of his manuscripts. Is Su xiansheng also…”
“Disciples of high scholar Li Chong are everywhere, Su xiong has also attended his lessons.” Xie Bi echoed.
“This is such a coincidence!” Prince Yu clapped and smiled, “In the future we can discuss this with each other.”
In response ot this present, Mei Chang Su couldn’t help but blink, softly speaking, “Which manuscripts would they be? Would it be ‘Non-suspecting Theory’?”
“Yes, yes.” Prince Yu happily answered, “It remains in my library. If you are interested, feel free to come by my residence. No one will dare to deny you entry.”
He didn’t say he would gift it to Mei Chang Su, just that he invited Mei Chang Su to come by and look. He was obviously using the manuscripts as way of ensuring that Mei Chang Su would frequently visit his residence.
The Crown Prince couldn’t help but worry about the current situation, quickly saying,” Jinghuan, don’t be so stingy. Aren’t they just a few manuscripts? If Su xiansheng likes them, then simply gift them to him, yet you make him have to visit your residence to look at them…If you feel regretful then what the manuscripts are worth, simply name your price. I will buy them and gift them to Su xiansheng.”
Being riled like that, Prince Yu said, “I’m just afraid that Su xiansheng won’t accept them, if he would happily accept them then I would immediately bring them over.”
Mei Chang Su smiled coldly, “They are manuscripts that Prince Yu treasures, how can I take them off you?”
“Not at all, Su xiansheng is so talented and reputable, if high scholar Lichong were still alive, he would definitely see you the disciple he is proudest of. This manuscript in your possession is the most appropriate.” Prince Yu expressed both a sense of graciousness as well as, condescension towards the Crown Prince. “But I still have to venture to say, imperial brother’s previous words are somewhat wrong. These manuscripts, in the eyes of ordinary people, seem to be nothing. But in the eyes of someone who respects high scholar Lichong, they are considered priceless. When you said for me to simply name a price, this statement may have seemed hard to accept for Su xiansheng…”
The Crown Prince immediately became angry, but he really had always not paid much attention to reading and didn’t have the mentality of these scholars. He was simply afraid of saying something wrong and offending Mei Chang Su, so chose to quietly put up with his tone.
After trying to outdo each other, it was still difficult to tell who had won. Seeing Mei Chang Su appear tired, it wasn’t convenient to stay any longer. Everyone then courteously asked him a few more questions before bidding farewell.
Yan Yujin had sat in the tent listening to them impatiently for a while before leaving to watch the martial arts competition a while ago. When they left, he quickly came back. Seeing Mei Chang Su sitting on the chair, coughing non-stop, Xiao Jingrui, who was next to him, gently patted him on the back. Yan Yujin quickly asked, “Su xiong, what’s wrong? Have you fallen ill again?”
It’s nothing.” Mei Chang Su accepted the cup of tea from Xiao Jingrui, took a sip and wiped away the tears from coughing. “The Crown Prince and Prince Yu both wear a fragrant smell…I’m not used to it…”
“Ah, I know. It’s the East China Sea ambergris bestowed by the Emperor that only the two of them have. The scent really is strong, of course Su xiong won’t be used to it. I’ve heard that this substance is the best, it can also be used as an .”
“Is that so?” Mei Chang Su casually asked, giving a quick sideways glance to Xie Bi, who was pretending as if he wasn’t paying attention to what they were talking about.
The news that he didn’t like this fragrance will surely be told to Prince Yu this evening, so the next time Prince Yu meets him then he definitely won’t be wearing it.
As for Xiao Jingrui and Yan Yujin, they were definitely not the Crown Prince’s people, therefore there won’t be anyone to tell the Crown Prince. But if the next time the Crown Prince meets him and also doesn’t use the scent, then a spy had been planted by the Crown Prince in Prince Yu’s residence.
But if the Crown Prince doesn’t find out about it, then the next time he meets him, then he will still be wearing the scent and, he will have to re-evaluate the abilities and schemes of Prince Yu.
After that, the situation became calmer than before, with no other guests arriving. They could focus on watching the matches, even though there had yet to appear a master, but it wasn’t too bad.
At midday, there was an hour where the matches were suspended for resting, on Yingfeng Tower, there was still the lingering presence of people, but it couldn’t be certain whether his Majesty was still upstairs or not. It was possible that the Emperor had only come for a moment without the patience to sit there and watch all the days’ matches.
Not knowing when Yan Yujin had ordered his servants to bring in food and wine, he was very enthusiastic about discussing the morning’s matches and was waiting for the afternoon matches. It seemed that out of everyone there, he was the only one paying full attention to this tournament.
At the start of the afternoon, Xie Bi had used an excuse to disappear. Seeing that Mei Chang Su seemed to be getting tired, Xiao Jingrui suggested that they return to the manor early to rest. Yan Yujin tried to keep them back but couldn’t, he could only stand stand alone next to the tent and bid them farewell.
As soon as he was in the carriage, Mei Chang Su had leaned back into the cushion and closed his eyes to rest his mind. Xiao Jingrui didn’t want to disturb him, so only quietly sat next to him while contemplating things.
After a moment, Mei Chang Su gently asked, “Jingrui, just then when we were leaving, did you see?”
Xiao Jingrui was slightly surprised, his hand unconsciously grabbing hold of the window sill. After a while, he responded, “Yes…”
“You saw…how did you feel?” Mei Chang Su opened his eyes, and slowly turned to look at him. Xiao Jingrui was also intently looking at him, seemingly jealous, a little kindness, a little bitterness, yet there was a hint of confusion, but it seemed as if he had thought it through clearly.
“The first impression is…her hairstyle has changed. Her long hair flowing freely before has now been tied up high in a bun, very beautiful, more beautiful than before…Xiao Jingrui slightly narrowed his eyes, as in trying to recall, “Then I saw the person next to her, holding hands…Truthfully speaking, right now, my heart is a little uncomfortable, he was quietly listening, the scene felt very harmonious. Especially when he looked at her…that gaze…made me feel that her waiting for him was worth it. Maybe when I was infatuated with her the most, I couldn’t look at her like he does…Su xiong, I don’t know why, I only know that even now I cannot do it, as if there was something missing, but I don’t know what it is…”
“It is because for people that have overcome death, it is the same as coming back from the other world, while for the people who live in this world alone, it will be hard to become like them…” Mei Chang Su looked at Xiao Jingrui intently, eyes full of understanding, “But why should you be like them? If it is possible to live happily for the rest of your life in the simple world, then isn’t that better?”
Xiao Jingrui’s eyebrows twitched, “Does Su xiong think…that Miss Yun’s husband has experienced…”
“If not having overcome the test of life and death, then how can there be mention of the fate of past lives?” Mei Chang Su lamented softly, “Regardless of what has happened between them, but a love that has grown like theirs is one to be admired.”
“That’s true.” Xiao Jingrui nodded his head heavily, “Someone as good as Miss Yun deserves the love of husband and wife such as this.”
Mei Chang Su turned his face away, hiding a fleeting expression of sadness and lowered his voice, mumbling, “Someone pure and naive like you also deserves a good ending…”
“Su xiong, did you say something?” Xiao Jingrui leaned in closely to listen but couldn’t hear properly.
“I said…a pure boy like you, in future will surely meet someone…”
“In future…” Xiao Jingrui sighed, staring as if he had lost his spirit. He pulled the curtains to look at the scenery outside.
He only wanted to have a short look but as he did, he saw a group of people congregating at the intersection up front. A horse-drawn carriage had fallen over in the middle of the crowd and there was the sound of loud cursing coming from over there.
“Jingrui, stop the carriage and go see what happened.” Mei Chang Su sat upright and had a look, “I can hear the sound of children.”
“Ok.” Xiao Jingrui replied, ordered the horse master to stop a personally went off to investigate. In fact, it seemed that the entire crowd was wearing the uniform of retainers, on the horse-drawn carriage was hung the banner of He Manor. The commoners surrounding them didn’t dare to approach, simply standing and watching the liveliness from afar.
Xiao Jingrui frowned, he had basically already guessed who was attempting to prove their prestige. He squeezed through to have a look and it really was the son of the Ministry of Personnel’s He Jingzhong, called He Wenxin. He was using his foot to kick a skinny child, while kicking he was constantly cursing, “You little bastard, you dare to scurry around and scare my horse, you nearly caused me to fall…” While he was cursing, he was drawing his whip with the intention of hitting him before being grabbed by someone.
“Who dares…” He Wenxin angrily half scolded, turned around and clearly saw Xiao Jingrui’s face. The latter half of his curse was then swallowed.
In fact, all the children in the noble families within the capital were taught to be well mannered. Very rarely was there someone who would, in the middle of the street and market like this, even those who looked down on the commoners were very aware of their station, never would they scold and beat other people.
He Wenxin’s father came from the civil exam. After becoming a minister, he was transferred around everywhere to carry out official duties, leaving his son with his grandmother. As a result, he was very well disciplined. Only arriving in the capital a few years ago, he had already built a bad reputation. He was lucky he still had his wits about him, and never offended people he shouldn’t, so was left alone till now.
Seeing Xiao Jingrui make an appearance, he didn’t dare to say much, only leaving a few parting words, “Well, I’m too lazy to care about it, “ then quickly left with his men.
Even though Xiao Jingrui was angry, he also couldn’t catch him to beat him up. He shook his head and squatted down to help the servant child.
The child had a skinny build, probably not even yet ten years old. His face seemed to have swollen with a few hand imprints. When he saw that the person who beat him had left, the child relaxed slightly, quickly got down on all fours to look for and gather the books he had dropped. He piled them into a neat stack and wrapped them up in a cloth. However, there were too many books while the cloth was small, so after a while he still couldn’t wrap them up tightly.
“What is your name?” Xiao Jingrui also helped the child to pick up his books, and gently touched his shoulder. “You were kicked several times, are you injured?”
The child shrank to escape his hands, bowing his head without saying a word.
“Jingrui.” Mei Chang Su called from the carriage. “Tell the child to come over here for me to look at.”
“Oh.” Xiao Jingrui grabbed the boy’s arm and warmly said, “With that many books, how can you carry them? Let me order someone to help you. Go, let us go over here first.”
“I can carry them…” The boy quietly whispered but didn’t dare to struggle. Xiao Jingrui half pulled, half carried him to beside the carriage before pushing him inside. Mei Chang Su’s warm and soft hand laid on the boy’s shoulder, slowly tracing down, carefully examining his body. When his hand reached the boy’s ribs, he called out in pain and tried to shirk away.
“He’s probably injured here.” Xiao Jingrui supported the child form behind and gently took his shirt off. As soon as he saw the boy’s body, he couldn’t help inhaling sharply.
On the boy’s skinny body was not only the new bruising injury on his rib but there were also a number of older ones too. Looking at them, there seemed to be injuries from a cane, others from a bamboo rod, not to mention burning wrought iron. Although the marks had faded, but it could still be imagined how this little boy was tortured.
“Whose son are you?” Xiao Jingrui tried to conceal his shock and loudly asked. But after thinking a while, he changed his tone, “Whose servant are you? Who often hits you like this…”
“No…” The boy immediately denied, “It hasn’t happened for several years now…”
“Even if it was before, you need to tell me, who hit you?”
“Jingrui.” Mei Chang Si quietly interrupted him, “Don’t ask anymore, although his ribs may not be broken, they will definitely be cracked. Take him back to the manor first and ask a physician to come and examine him. As for this pile of books, it looks like he considers them very important…”
He wasn’t wrong, as soon as the boy saw that the pile of books had also been brought into the carriage, he let out a sigh and quietly pleaded, “I’m fine, please let me go. I can get home by myself…”
“Where do you need to return to?” Xiao Jingrui took the opportunity to ask.
The boy’s response was very keen, he immediately lowered his head.
“Is it you that reads these books?” Mei Chang Su turned to the pile of books and asked gently.
Perhaps it was because he always had an elegant and soft temperament that reassured others, causing the boy to look at him briefly, his expression losing some of its wariness. He whispered, “A number of them, the others I don’t understand…”
“How old are you?”
“Eleven years old.”
“What is your name?”
The boy paused for a long time, so long that the two people thought that he wouldn’t answer before he woodenly replied, “Tingsheng.”
“I have no family name, just Tingsheng…”
Mei Chang Su, once again, inspected the child carefully. Although his cheeks were swollen, face innocent but it could still be seen that his looked very handsome.
From the beginning till now, every word and action was submissive, no matter what anyone else was doing, the boy had no intention of fighting back. There was something strange though, there wasn’t an air of subservience about him, he seemed to be tough and resolute, even if bullied, would not lower himself.
“Tingsheng, if we let you down to go home, will anyone call a physician for you?”
Tingsheng pursed his lips, the answer was obviously denial but he didn’t want to lie.
“Then we need to take you back with us first and wait for the physician to finish his examination. If you are ok, then we will take you home. Is that ok?”
Tingsheng bowed his head without saying a word, brows furrowed tightly.
“Will this cause you trouble?”
Tingsheng was hesitant, lips still pursed.
“No…there is still another person…”
“Where are they?”
“They ran first…”
“If you return late, will someone hit you?”
A frosty expression appeared momentarily on Tingsheng’s face, he shook his head, “Now there won’t be…but there won’t be dinner…”
Xiao Jingrui suddenly felt his blood boil in anger, “Don’t let you eat? In the end where are you from? They treat you like that yet you still want to return? Quickly tell me, I can help you. Coming to our place will be ok, at least you’ll have something to eat!”
Tingsheng looked up, his gaze seemed much older and clearer than his age, “Do you think that I’m pathetic and want to take me in?”
Xiao Jingrui became embarrassed and tried to explain, “No…I mean…”
“I have no right to be taken in, I have to return there…If it could be done, then someone would have already taken me in long ago…”
“You have the contract of slavery correct?” Xiao Jingrui guessed. “Who was it given to? Just tell me, I can go negotiate with them.”
Tingsheng lowered his eyes with indifference, “No, that won’t do.”
“Do you know who he is? Mei Chang Su looked at the child and asked. “His father is the marquis, his mother is the Grand Princess, he has a very high status. In the capital, no matter where you were sold, he only needs to stand up to negotiate and your owner will have to give him face, do you understand?”
Tingsheng kept his head down and insistently replied, “No, that still won’t do.”
Mei Chang Su and Xiao Jingrui looked at each other, when they were going to continue speaking, the horse master loudly announced, “First young master, we have arrived at the manor.”
“Now, just enter the manor first.” Xiao Jingrui carried the child and climbed down off the carriage. He ordered his servant, “Go and invite a physician.”
Mei Chang Su also began to come down from the carriage, his arms carrying the pile of books. He was wondering how this skinny child could possibly would carry them.
“Let me help you.” Xiao Jingrui had just reached him when a servant hurriedly walked forward to take the pile of books. He then to help Mei Chang Su down.
Tingsheng quickly glanced and saw the plaque, “Manor of the Marquis of Ning” hung on the gate, his eyes flashed a darkly. He quickly lowered his head but the change couldn’t escape the notice of Mei Chang Su.
The two of them brought the child to Snow Cottage and the physician quickly arrived to examine him. The diagnosis was that his ribs were cracked. He heeded to rest and eat nutritiously, furthermore, he must not do any heavy work. Otherwise his young body could easily become damaged.
Looking at Tingsheng, it was easy to tell that his current living conditions were not good. If he was allowed to return there then they were afraid the two conditions set by the physician would not be possible. But no matter how Xiao Jingrui asked, Tingsheng wouldn’t reveal where he lived.
In contrast, Mei Chang Su wasn’t as impatient as Xiao Jingrui, he simply ordered someone to bring food for Tingsheng and instructed him to sleep early.
Then, seeing that he really couldn’t sleep because he was uneasy, he opened a book to determine the extent of his education.
“You don’t have a teacher?”
“Then who taught you to read?”
Mei Chang Su pondered for a moment.
It appeared that this child had the heart to study but his knowledge was superficial and all over the place. Even the books had no system, not like ones that someone with learning would suggest to him. It was possible that he chose them himself, but the question remained, where did he get the money to buy them?
“Tingsheng, you can’t read books like this.” Mei Chang Su patiently collated the books and brought many more of his own from within the room, writing down the order, “You need to read these first. These books are the foundation, short, concise and clear, the development of man’s character is also very clear. Like building a house, the foundation needs to be strong so that it won’t fall. If you continue reading randomly then you won’t be able to understand the true meaning, instead you will only become confused. These other books are interesting, but for younger people who don’t yet know all the words and without someone explaining to them, then they won’t understand. For now, just leave them there, later on, if you have the opportunity, simply come and ask me.”
Tingshen’s eyes instantly lit up, only to dim again.
He instinctively knew that the person this big brother in front of him was a very learned man, but to often visit to ask for his guidance was something that was not possible for him.
“Thank you, “Tingsheng stood up and bowed deeply, “May I leave now?”
“This child…” Xiao Jingrui looked at him and could feel a headache coming on, “You originally had a lot of books, and now Su xiansheng has given you even more, how are you going to take them all away?”
Tingsheng looked at the pile of books as tall as a small mountain. He didn’t really want to leave any of them behind, so gritting his teeth, he replied, “I can take them.”
“Don’t say such stupid things,” Xiao Jingrui quickly pulled him back, “You’re injure right now and aren’t allowed to do any heavy lifting. Let me order someone to take you home.”
Tingsheng firmly shook his head.
Xiao Jingrui really had no way to deal with this child and helplessly looked over at Mei Chang Su.
Mei Chang Su thought for a while and was planning to speak when he heard a shout from outside Snow Cottage. It was Fei Liu’s voice, followed by someone calling loudly, “Little master, you can’t beat this person, this is…”
“Come in and fight!” Fei liu coldly answered. The sound of sleeves cutting through the wind became even more intense.
“Who are you that you dare to stop me…” A loud, offended voice shouted in question, but the words were cut-off half way.
He was probably caught in Fei Liu’s offensive stance and couldn’t continue speaking.
“Go out! No fighting!” Fei Liu probably still remembered Mei Chang Su’s instructions to not kill, but his tone was still icy cold, without any intention of making room.
Although they couldn’t hear who the male outside was, but Xiao Jingrui still immediately ran out to see. After a moment, his shouted, “Fei Liu, no more fighting, this person is a guest, let him in!”
“Not allowed! Go outside!” Fei Liu insisted.
Mei Chang Su couldn’t help but frown.
Other than the few people Fei Liu already knew, normally the guests that arrive all have servants who come to announce them. If he agreed to meet them, then he would instruct Fei Liu that he doesn’t need to stop them, so this had never happened before.
Obviously this guest had used his reputation to come in directly, the servants in the manor not only didn’t dare to stop him, but they didn’t have the chance to announce him first, that’s why Fei Liu stopped him.
For such rude guests, Mei Chang Su would normally not see them. He had intended to turn away the guest before his eyes caught sight of Tingsheng.
His face was white, head raised and mouth open, ears turned to listen intently to the disturbance outside. HIs hands twisting themselves tightly.
Mei Chang Su immediately changed his mind and called out, “Fei Liu, let the guest in!”
The sound of fighting disappeared and Xiao Jingrui’s voice immediately sounded, very polite, “Is your Excellency injured? Why did you rush in here? Is there an urgent matter? My father isn’t at home, how about I take you to the main hall…”
“I didn’t come to find the Marquis,” the person spoke while entering Snow Cottage and on seeing the cold eyes of Mei Chang Su, his steps couldn’t help but falter to a stop. His eyes looked around, and only after seeing Tingsheng standing there safely did he relax, asking, “Sheng-er, are you ok?”
“You know this child?”
“Jingrui.” The man turned and sternly said, “I heard that this child wasn’t careful and collided with your carriage in the streets, and may have surprised your esteemed guest, no wonder you may be angry. But no matter what, he is still only a child, I hope you can give me some face and allow me to ask for your esteemed guest’s forgiveness before letting him go.”
Xiao Jingrui stood frozen and looked at him for a while, until even Mei Chang Su laughed a little before he followed suit, “Your Excellency has misunderstood. Tingsheng didn’t collide with our carriage, we happened to pass by when we encountered him and took the opportunity to bring him back to examine his injuries. If you don’t believe me, you can ask him.”
The man immediately became shocked, turned around to look at Tingsheng’s expression, and thought back to Xiao Jingrui’s personality. He knew that he wouldn’t lie, so his expression instantly became embarrassed.
“I really did not know that your Royal Highness Prince Jing had arrived.” Mei Chang Su slowly got up to bow and greet him, “Just then Fei Liu has offended you, please forgive me!”
Xiao Jingrui hurried forward to introduce, “Your Highness Prince Jing, this person is Su xiansheng, Su Zhe.”
The seventh prince, Prince Jing, Xiao Jingyan, was thirty one years old this year. He was a tall and healthy with youthful looks not unlike his brothers. It’s just that because he spent most of the year with the troops so along with his air of royal extravagance, there was also a sense of fortitude. The skin of his hands and face were also not particularly looked after like the other princes.
Hearing the name Su Zhe, he did not reveal any particular expression. Probably because he notices how solemn Xiao Jingrui’s introduction was that he also politely returned ceremony.
In contrast, under Mei Chang Su’s idle and dull expression, he was carefully inspecting him.
“In Tingsheng a member of your Highness’ household?” After offering his guest a seat, Xiao Jingrui immediately asked.
“Uh…no…” Prince Jing seemed a little embarrassed, as if he didn’t know what to say, “Tingsheng…currently lives in the servant prison…”
“Servant prison?” Xiao Jingrui had never though that the servant prison was around here and blurted, “Isn’t that somewhere that holds the servants being punished? He is still so young, what wrong he do to be held there?”
Tingsheng pinched his lips together into a hard line, his face having lost all its colour.
“He was born there, and was held with his mother.” Prince Jing knew, even if he didn’t say then Xiao Jingrui could investigate so was very upfront. “If there is nothing else, then quickly let him come return me. According to the regulations then people of the servant prison cannot stay outside overnight. His mother must be very anxious now…”
“You know his mother?” Xiao Jingrui knew he shouldn’t ask further but couldn’t help his curiosity.
Prince Jing’s main consort died many years ago, now beside him there was only two consorts following the wishes of the Emperor, there were no other concubines. Compared to the other princes who had had numerous concubines, he really was a very different person. Perhaps it was because of his love for a guilty palace maid, thinking more, maybe this child was…
As soon as the thought came, Xiao Jingrui felt that his imagination was closely resembling that of Yan Yujin, this was very dangerous. He immediately stopped imagining things and smiled, embarrassed.
Prince Jing was older than him by a few years, with many more experiences and was a very intelligent person. With a glance, he knew immediately what Xiao Jingrui was thinking but had no intentions of clarifying.
He only really stumbled across the existence of TIngsheng a few years ago. At that time, this child had been tortured to the point where he wasn’t recognisable. These last few years, although he had used his authority to protect him from being beaten but still, he couldn’t totally protect him.
So every time that he leaves the capital to patrol the borders, he couldn’t help but feel worried.
This time, after he had arrived back in the capital a few days and completed a number of tasks at the Ministry of Defence, did he have time to go visit him. Then he had heard another child in the prison say that he had caused trouble in the streets so had quickly inquired about it before heading to save him. Fortunately nothing had happened.
“I was reckless in trespassing on the grounds of the marquis’ manor. I will come another day to ask apologise.” Prince Jing didn’t say anymore, stood up and glanced at Tingsheng, “The hour is late, I ask…”
He had yet to finish speaking when Mei Chang Su suddenly started coughing. It was as if he had attempted to suppress it at the beginning but then coughed even harder, as if his organs were about to rip apart, blue veins appearing all over his forehead and cold sweat as big as a soybean began to form.
Although he had known Mei Chang Su for a few days but Xiao Jingrui had never seen him cough like this. He immediately became flustered, ran to him and patted his back but it had no use. When giving Mei Chang Su a handkerchief, he felt his forehead was on fire but at the same time, as cold as ice so became confused. He quickly called for someone to invite a physician.
Even Fei Liu had rushed over to hold Mei Chang Su’s trembling body, like a frightened child who couldn’t speak, only knowing to cry out, “ah, ah…”
After a while, Mei Chang Su finally returned to normal. He gently removed the handkerchief from his mouth and there could be seen a spot of blood on it. He quickly folded it away.
Xiao Jingrui had seen it and felt very sad but didn’t say anything concerning it. He simply whispered in his ear, “Su xiong, do you need to take a pill from physician Xun Zhen?”
“No need.” Mei Chang Su tried to adjust his breathing, and turned to smile at Fei Liu. “It’s only coughing, Fei Liu don’t be scared, tonight Fei Liu patting me on the back will do…”
“That’s right, with our Fei Liu here to pat me on the back, I will be fine…”
Prince Jing still stood to the side watching, he couldn’t leave, but staying was also not a good idea. Now that Su Zhe was much better, he quickly came forward to ask, “What’s wrong? Su xiansheng’s body isn’t well?”
Mei Chang Su slowly turned his gaze to look at Tingsheng who was still staring wide-eyed. He smiled and beckoned him over, “Tingsheng, come over here for a moment!”
Tingsheng looked at Prince Jing quickly, although he didn’t know what he wanted, he still slowly walked over.
“Tingsheng, do you want me to teach you?”
Tingsheng was surprised and momentarily didn’t know how to answer.
Prince Jing frowned, saying, “Su xiansheng, Tingsheng is a person of the servant prison…”
“I know.” Probably because of coughing too much so his cheeks were still a little damp, but that made his gaze even more burning, “I only asked you, would you like it?”
Tingsheng breathed in sharply, without knowing why, he suddenly felt that this was an opportunity. So he grit his teeth, puffed his chest and loudly said, “I’m willing!”
“Good!” The smile on Mei Chang Su’s pale face became even brighter. He went to grab the child’s small hand, “You go back first. I will definitely have a way to bring you to my side.”
Hearing this sudden promise from Mei Chang Su, the person most surprised was Prince Jing, Xiao Jingyan, because he knew the child’s identity much better than Xiao Jingrui. He also knew how difficult it was to take Tingsheng from the servant prison.
These past few years, a prince like him had tried his best but still couldn’t bring Tingsheng into his household, and this person was merely a good friend of the eldest young master of the Manor of the Marquis of Ning. Even if Xiao Jingrui did his best to help, he was afraid that it would be in vain, causing Tingsheng even more disappointment.
“Su xiansheng must have a very kind personality and doesn’t want to see this child suffer.” Prince Jing responded lightly, “It’s just that, the people of the servant prison require an amnesty decree to leave, it is not an easy thing to attain. Does Su xiansheng think that the Marquis of Ning can simply say and it becomes so?”
Xiao Jingrui quickly responded, “I could ask father to seek audience with His Majesty…”
“Jingrui.” Prince Jing immediately cut off his words, “For the child of a slave in the servant prison, you want to ask the Marquis of Ning to seek audience with his Majesty? Don’t speak such nonsense.”
“But…” Xiao Jingrui planned to say more but was held back by Mei Chang Su, “Jingrui , Prince Jing is correct, everyone in the servant prison has their own charge, it isn’t as easy as buying anyone that you see on the street that needs help. You must not mention this issue to the Marquis, you must also not mention it to anyone else, remember?”
“You don’t want us to help?” Jingrui was shocked, “Then how do you plan to save him? Unless you want to request help from the Crown Prince and Prince Yu?”
Prince Jing’s eyebrows twitched slightly, a razor sharp gaze reflected in his eyes, he coldly stated, “So Su xiansheng…has become acquaintances of the Crown Prince and Prince Yu.”
Mei Chang Su glanced at him without paying much attention and continued speaking to Xiao Jingrui, “Jingrui, just believe in me. It’s only when there is no one else who knows that I can guaranteed that I will be able to save Tingsheng. The child of a guilty slave like him, the more high ranking the person is who asks for pardon, the more suspicious the Emperor will become. If it wasn’t like that then Prince Jing would have already saved him. You have to promise me that you will pretend that you don’t know about this, in the future, don’t mention it again, ok?”
Xiao Jingrui stared at him, he still didn’t understand and had many questions but out of trust and respect for him, he agreed.
Then someone in the courtyard outside spoke, “Eldest young master, the Marquis has returned to the manor.”
Mei Chang Su took the opportunity to say, “Go quickly to greet the Marquis, there’s no need to stay here with me.”
“But your body…”
“It’s nothing, you know that I always cough, there’s nothing to worry about. The Marquis has returned to the manor, how can you not go to greet him? If it’s because you need to stay here with me that you forget to be courteous to your parents, then the Marquis will definitely think that I am a bad friend, and won’t allow us to be acquaintances. Go quickly!”
Xiao Jingrui listened to him, stood up and turned to Prince Jing saying, “Your Highness Prince Jing, then please let me escort you out first.”
Will His Royal Highness Prince JIng mind staying for a moment? About Tingsheng…I still have a few things to ask you…”
Mei Chang Su laughingly asked.
Prince Jing’s eyes flashed, he couldn’t guess who this strange, sickly youth was in the end so also wanted to observe him a moment. So he nodded and spoke to Xiao Jingrui, “You go ahead first, the way that Su xiansheng acts is much different to you, I would like to speak with him some more.”
“Tat being the case, I’ll excuse myself first.” Xiao Jingrui estimated that his father had reached the main gate and so was a little anxious. He quickly bowed before leaving towards the main courtyard.
With the owner having left, the two remaining people did not immediately start talking.
Prince Jing’s expression was as cold as ice as he carefully observed the person sitting on the long bench under the tree with alertness.
Unlike him, Mei Chang Su’s attitude was much more relaxed. He lowered his voice to instruct Fei Liu to go outside the courtyard, while choosing a book for Tingsheng and tole him to go read in a corner. Only then did he turn to look at the prince with a faint smile.
“Even if your HIghness feels hostility towards me, you don’t need to express it so clearly.” Mei Chang Su spoke frankly, “At least we now have a common goal in saving Tingsheng.”
“It is this very issue that makes it hard to understand,” Prince Jing’s eyes were full of suspicion. “Why do you wholeheartedly want to save Tingsheng? Is it just because of compassion?”
“Of course not only that,” Mei Chang Su looked hard at the thin figure reading in the corner, his gaze becoming soft, “He has great potential, I want to take him on as a student.”
Prince Jing expressed a single, “huh…” before going on, “There are many more qualified children in the world than him, just based on being your friends, the son of the Marquis of Ning, the Crown Prince and Prince Yu, how difficult could it be to find a more suitable child?”
“Then why does your Highness protect Tingsheng like that? A dignified prince, yet you trespassed into the Manor of the Marquis of Ning for a mere child slave, I’m afraid things aren’t as simple as empathy, right?”
Prince Jing gently said, “I really like Tingsheng’s mother, if you love someone, love them till the end…”
“You really love then love to the very end, but that ‘person’ is definitely not his mother,” Mei Chang Su closed his eyes, his have held no emotion, as if he had put on a mask, “…but it is his father…”
Prince Jing’s entire body startled, his muscles seemed to spasm as if he couldn’t hide his emotions, both hands clasped into a fist at his side. As if struggling to not punch this young man in the face.
“It is probably the age gap betweein Xiao Jingrui and I that is the main difference, as soon as I heard, I could already guess what happened, but he couldn’t. Simply because at that time, he was still a child, only knowing to study and practice martial arts. To him, that was something from a very long time ago…” Mei Chang Su wasn’t looking at Prince Jing, on his face appeared a smile full of sadness. “Tingsheng is eleven years old, born in the servant prison, whose child is he? Based on the timeframe then the person most likely is him…the two of you used to go into battle with each other, your relationship must be good…”
Xiao Jingyan’s gaze pierced like needles, his aura becoming as cold as ice, “In the end…who are you?”
“The Crown Prince and Prince Yu are both not my friends, they are trying to recruit me.” Mei Chang Su gave a self-deprecating smile. “Do you know how Lang Ya hall evaluates me? “Divine talent, if you have him you will have the world.” If even the big issues concerning the princes isn’t within my understanding then how could I be seen as a divine talent?”
“So, you are deliberately hiding and collecting this information to save for use later on?”
“That’s right.” Mei Chang Su quickly affirmed. “What is wrong with being a divine talent? Having other people rely on you, making contributions, perhaps even in future I can even be brought into the Imperial Tombs, my name living on forever.”
Prince Jing’s gaze was deep, and voice cold, “Then who do you choose, the Crown Prince or Prince Yu?”
Mei Chang Su looked up slightly, seeing right through the branches that were losing their leaves, looking at the deep blue sky. It was a long time before he pulled in his gaze and turned to look at Prince Jing, “I choose you, your Highness Prince Jing.”
“Choose me?” Prince Jing tilted his head back and laughed loudly, but his eyes held an expression full of sadness. “You really don’t know how to choose people. My mother is merely a consort, and there is no dignitary in her family. Me, I’m thirty one years old and have yet to be named Prince, always dealing with the brash people of the military, never making contacts within the royal court or the people of the six provinces. What can you gain in choosing me?”
“Your circumstances are not too good,” Mei Chang Su lightly replied, “But unfortunately I have no other options.”
“What do you mean in saying that? The Crown Prince and Prince Yu are both powerful, regardless of who grabs the throne, it really isn’t surprising…”
“Exactly because regardless of who gains the throne isn’t a surprise that I don’t want to choose them. Based on my power alone, if I am able to put someone that no one thought of on the throne, then I can really prove my ability as a divine talent, isn’t that right?”
Prince Jing looked deeply at Mei Chang Su, but couldn’t tell if he was joking or serious.
“Prince Jing, tell the truth!” Mei Chang Su calmly looked at Prince Jing, looking like a demon tempting him, “Do you really not want to become Emperor?”
Prince Jing’s heart felt as if it could burst, teeth clamped tightly shut.
As a prince, to say that he never dreamed of becoming Emperor would be lying. But if you said he constantly thought about this and saw seizing the throne as his most important goal in life then that would also not be true.
But of course, if you could really cut off the road to the throne for both the Crown Prince and Prince Yu then he was ready and willing to pay any price.
“If Tingsheng can be saved, then consider it a gift to your Highness for when I come to seek refuge.” Mei Chang Su’s gaze was indifferent, but his words made Prince Jing’s thoughts become stormy. “The eldest prince, the older brother that you respected the most, helping the only child of the oldest prince to escape a place like the servant prison, is that your wish?”
Prince Jing’s eyebrows shook lightly, he slowly asked, “You can really do it?”
“But…I don’t like the type of people who are calculative like you, even if you are able to help me ascend the throne, there is no guarantee that you will receive praise, do you really not mind?”
“Since I am such a calculative person, naturally there will be plenty of opportunities to negotiate the conditions with your Highness, Prince Jing.” Mei Chang Su smirkingly smiled, his entire body giving off a clear and breeze-like air, unlike the gloominess of what he was saying. “You should not be the type of person who kills off their advisors right? The Crown Prince and Prince Yu seem like that type of people more than you…”
Prince Jing pursed his lips and began to think over it carefully.
The words of Su xiansheng were very difficult to believe, but his demeanour was very serious. If it was said that he was lying, then he couldn’t really guess his motives.
Furthermore, regardless of whether it was the Crown Prince or Prince Yu, neither of them saw their remaining brothers as worthy adversaries, so they wouldn’t send someone as capable as Su Zhe to simply investigate his attitude towards them.
Then in the end, what did he want? Was it really just to choose someone that he wanted to support?
“Your Highness should consider it carefully, the decision should be made the sooner the better. After all, before the sky becomes dark, Tingsheng must go back.” Mei Chang Su leisurely urged him.
In the end, Prince Jing grit his teeth and made up his mind, “Ok, if you can take the throne from the Crown Prince and Prince Yu, then I will cooperate with you.”
“This level of determination is still not enough. You must see the throne as a goal that you must achieve.” Every sentence, every word belonging to Mei Chang Su was as cold as ice. “The Crown Prince and Prince Yu, what kind of power do they have? If you want to defeat them, then someone else must succeed. If this person isn’t you, then who is it? Among the princes still alive, the third prince is disabled, the fifth prince is as timid as a mouse and the ninth prince is too young…I’ve already said that your circumstance are not good, but I have no other options…”
“You really don’t speak with reserve,” Prince Jing’s eyes lit up with interest, “Since you planned to take refuge with me, then aren’t you afraid that I will be offended?”
“Do you only like to hear nice things?” Mei Chang Su’s tone seemed very tired, he leaned back into the soft chair and closed his eyes, “Please rest assured your Highness, at most, ten days after the tournament to find a husband for Princes Nihuang, I will be able to bring Tingsheng out. As for right now…I’m afraid that I won’t be able to escort you out.”
After talking, he determinedly closed his eyes, as if he had fallen asleep.
Faced with such rude actions, Xiao Jingyan paid it no attention. He simply glanced at Mei Chang Su and without saying a word, stood up and called Tingsheng over. He helped the boy pick up the bag of books and simply left Snow Cottage.
As always, please be kind ^.^ if I have made any mistakes, let me know below and I will endeavour to fix them. If you would like to help with the translation, do leave a comment ^.^
As I continue the translation, names of people / places may change as I come across better transliterations.