CHAPTER 5: the past is like smoke
<< Chapter 04 Chapter 06 >>
~jie jie [~姐姐] – suffix used for older female friend or relative
Mt. Tai / Tai Shan [泰山] – Mt. Tai in Shandong, eastern of the Five Sacred Mountains [五嶽 / 五岳]
Erlang Shen / Erlang [二郎神] – a Chinese God with a third truth-seeing eye in the middle of his forehead
啸天犬 – “Howling Celestial Dog” companion to Erlangshen
That night, Xiao Jingrui brought in an imperial physician to look after Mei Chang Su, but as soon as the imperial physician heard that his patient was using a prescription from physician Xun Zhen, he didn’t have many words to say, simply, “He must rest more, and isn’t allowed to become emotional,” and immediately left.
Mei Chang Su took the excuse of wanting to sleep early to chase Xiao Jingrui and the imperial physician away but he didn’t immediately go to sleep. Instead, donned a two layer coat and opened the window. He sat quietly next to the window and turned to face towards the crescent moon that was hung up high in the middle of nothingness, as if lost in thought.
Fei Liu walked over and sat down on the rug placed next to him, resting his head on his knees and shook his head.
Mei Chang Su bent down to look at the black hair on his knees and stroked his hair gently, softly asking, “What’s wrong with our Fei Liu? Do you feel lonely?”
Fei Liu raised his head, his clear eyes looking back, “Not allowed to be sad!”
Mei Chang Su was slightly stunned, after a moment, he smiled gently. “I’m only thinking about a few things so seemed a bit lost, I’m not sad. Fei Liu do not worry!”
Fei Liu shook his head, still insisting, “Not allowed to be sad!”
In that moment, Mei Chang Su felt his heart waver, as if he couldn’t hold it in anymore, only able to control his actions and expression with only a ray of determination seemingly present but not.
If he didn’t want to be sad, then it really wasn’t that difficult.
He only had to find a faraway location and rest in seclusion, along with two or three good friends that he often encountered. There would be no need for political intrigue or plans of betrayal and his long time chronic illness could also be cured. Receiving the good intentions of others also wouldn’t be a burden, it would be good for the mind and the body. So why didn’t he? It’s a shame that it is only a faraway dream, he had a burden on his shoulders so no matter how heavy it was, he had to endure it to the end.
“Fei Liu, can you go back to Langzhou?” Mei Chang Su stroked the teenager’s head gently and quietly asked.
Fei Liu’s eyes immediately opened wide, suddenly lunging forward to to hug Mei Chang Su’s waist, “No!”
“I can write to Lin Chen ge ge, tell him that he isn’t allowed to tease you anymore, is that alright?”
“But, Fei Liu…” Mei Chang Su’s tone concealed a sense of sadness, “If you stay with me, you’ll watch me getting worse all the time, then…you’ll feel sad…”
“Then Fei Liu…” The teenager placed his face firmly against Mei Chang Su’s knee, “Still won’t be sad!”
“That is enough?” Mei Chang Su sighed for a long time, “Simply staying by my side, leaning against my knee to rest, and you are already very happy?”
Mei Chang Su gently lifted Fei Liu’s face up, using his fingertips gently stroking his forehead, expression becoming even more sad. “Well…in that case, I at least have to be able to keep your happiness…Fei Liu, you have to remember, no matter what happens you can’t be afraid, because there will always be someone to take care of you, you will always be my happiest child…”
Fei Liu blinked, he didn’t really understand the meaning behind his words, but could feel the warmth of kindness within them. So on his face that was usually as cold as ice and rarely smiled, copied Mei Chang Su and smiled emotionlessly. Although his lips were stiff but this was already the best way that he could express his emotions.
“Our Fei Liu is really cute, in future, when we return to Langzhou, can you also smile for Lin Chen ge ge to see?”
“Do you really hate Lin Chen ge ge that much?” Mei Chang Su laughed soundlessly, pulled Fei Liu into his lap and gently rocked. “ But you are still the best…If I could be as carefree as you, as happy as you then it would be good…”
Fei Liu threw off Mei Chang Su’s arms, sat up straight and seriously said, “It’s possible!”
Mei Chang Su looked at him tenderly, “Is it really possible?”
“It’s possible!” Fei Liu reminded him again then stood up to bring over a tall chair to sit on, and pulled Mei Chang Su down to sit on the rug, brought his head onto his knee. “ Like Fei Liu! Su ge ge can!”
Mei Chang Su felt the corner of his eyes become damp, leant onto Fei Liu’s knee and felt his fingers run through his hair, gently stroking, passing on his sense of deepest love and purest dependance to his body.
“Our Fei Liu is the smartest!” Mei Chang Su closed his eyes tightly, mumbling, “So Su ge ge can also be like this…”
“Yes!” Fei Liu attempted to smile again while shaking his knee. He slowly began to hum a soothing tune.
“fei Liu also learned this song?”
“Yes! Fei Liu sings!”
Mei Chang Su breathed in deeply, and tried to relax every fibre of his being. A surge of weariness swept over him.
“Sleep!” Fei liu said.
“Fei Liu is sleepy, do you want to sleep?”
“No! Su ge ge sleep! Fei Liu fight bad guys!”
Mei Chang Su looked at him, then immediately understood Fei Liu, eyebrows couldn’t help but frown, “Did someone enter Snow Cottage?”
“Yes!” Fei liu nodded, “Outside! Uncle! Fei Liu beat him!”
Hearing this, Mei Chang Se sighed in relief, held on to Fei Liu’s arm and stood up. He faced the window and said, “Meng da ge, please come in!”
As his voice faded, a figure stepped forward quickly. It was obviously a large body but his actions were as quick as a ghost.
“This uncle is a guest of Su ge ge, our Fei Liu cannot fight him. Fei Liu, can you go to sleep first?” Mei Chang Si coaxed the teenager into his room, Meng Zhi entering behind them.
After waiting for Fei Liu to obediently lay down on his bed and close his eyes to sleep, the two adults sat down next to the round table on the floor in the middle of the room.
“Have the two of them left yet?” Mei Chang Su poured a cup of tea for Meng Zhi, and asked.
“I have conveyed your message, but it seems that Wei Zheng does not want to leave…”
“Then what does he want to do?”
“Stay in the capital to help you. He said that this was everyone’s concern and couldn’t let you take all the burden yourself.”
“Nonsense!” Mei Chang Su replied angrily, “How are he and I the same? I have only myself, but he still has Miss Yun. Twelve years of life and death, Miss Yun has devotedly stayed true to him, in the end she was able to wait for him to reclaim life and come home. The two of them have reunited after so many troubles, why is he making so much noise? I don’t need him here, if he wants to leave then he can leave, and if he doesn’t, then he still must!”
“You do not have to get angry.” Meng Zhi slowly advised him, “Don’t I understand Wei Zheng? Regardless of what he feels, if you give him an order, then he will follow it. I’m just worried about you, you came to the capital by yourself, did you bring any backup at all?”
“I brought Fei Liu.”
“Just that child?” Meng Zhi looked towards the bed, “I’m sorry to say it, but that day I didn’t know that this child belonged to you. I was surprised when I saw his agility, so momentarily curious, acted. I didn’t cause you any trouble did I?”
“No.” Mei Chang Su answered lightly, “It merely caused the Marquis of Ning to become surprised a little.”
“This time you have come here, why didn’t you let me know? Now I haven’t made any preparations, how can I help you?”
“You want to help me?” Mei Chang Su’s smile held a touch of indifference, “No, you are now the commander of the Imperial Guards and receiving much acclaim. Why do you need to worry yourself because of me? You only need to pretend that you don’t know me and that is helping me greatly already.”
Meng Zhi grit his teeth in anger, “Do you really think this? What type of person do you think I am?”
Mei Chang Su smiled gently as if he didn’t smile at all, placed his hand on Meng Zhi’s elbow and gently squeezed. He whispered, “Meng da ge, how could I not understand your mind? Not to mention the feeling of brotherhood between us that year, with your character along, then you definitely won’t stand by idly watching. But what I need to do, you really have no chance in succeeding so I don’t want you to be involved. A moment of carelessness and the reputation of several generations of good people of your family, Meng, will be destroyed in an instant…”
“Loyalty is in the heart, not in reputation. You only need not directly harm the Emperor and you will never be my enemy.”
“That Emperor? The Emperor will always be a sword, the need to strike or kill heavily relies on him,” A clear smile appeared on the lips of Mei Chang Su. “It seems like you have already guessed my purpose for entering the capital.”
“That’s right, I think I can guess it.” A heavy sense of worry filled the eyes of Meng Zhi. “But the Crown Prince and Prince Yu, it will be very difficult to topple the both of them at the same time. No matter what, His Majesty will have to protect one of them.”
“Not necessarily.” Mei Chang Su sneered, “The Emperor does not have only these two sons.”
Maybe it was because Meng Zhi had never thought about the possibility of there being another heir to the throne other than the Crown Prince and Prince Yu, he was strangely fearful. “You…you want to support Prince Jing?”
“I know your feelings towards Prince Jing are very good, I also don’t underestimate your abilities. Truthfully speaking, his bad circumstances don’t really matter, it’s just because of his mother’s lower status that he isn’t valued by the Emperor. But this situation can be changed by simply demonstrating his abilities. The most important thing is Prince Jing’s personality isn’t very good at being calculative, he also hates fighting for power. How dangerous is fighting for the throne? With his personality like that, how can he go against the Crown Prince and Prince Yu, both who are scheming and manipulative with power behind them?”
Mei Chang Su opened the tea pot lid, his face seemingly emotionless. “What is wrong with him not being calculative? Isn’t there also me? I can do all those bathed in blood and wretched things, to cause those who are evil to fall over and pile high. Even if I have to backstab the innocent, then I still won’t be lenient. Although I may feel uneasy, but the uneasiness to a person who has overcome his limits, then it is still bearable…”
These words of his, although cruel, encompassed all the sadness and difficulties that can’t be concealed. Meng Zhi looked at him, stunned, suddenly feeling as if his heart was being pierced by a knife. After a while, he sighed, lowered his voice and asked, “Then Prince Jing…has he agreed?”
“Why not? He hates the Crown Prince and Prince Jing as much as I do, not to mention there’s the throne waiting there as well. The attractiveness of the throne is enormous, there aren’t many people who can resist it, Jingyan is the same…”
“That’s impossible!” Meng Zhi slammed his hand on the table. “His personality hates disputes, unless you’ve come to? Since when has Prince Jing become that cruel? Doesn’t his heart ache for you?”
“Meng da ge.” Mei Chang Su smiled coldly. “You forget, Jingyan doesn’t know it’s me…I have already died, I’m just a scar in his heart…Someone who scares him while tempting him onto the road in the fight for the throne. I’m merely Su Zhe, why should he care for me?”
“What?” Meng Zhi asked without understanding. “Yes, he doesn’t know…but didn’t you meet him yesterday? You didn’t tell him? He didn’t recognise you?”
“Why should I tell him?” Mei Chang Su’s complexion was pure white but his gaze was completely clear. “Even if we were the best of friends since childhood, no matter how close we were, after coming back from death and turning into a demon, not only does he not recognise me, but I don’t even recognise myself.”
Meng Zhi balled his hands into fists, to the point where his knuckles turned white, wanting to use this way to reduce the feeling of a knife piercing his heart.
He thought back to the year that he was 18, with a bright smile and healthy face as flushed as a ripe apple when they parted. A period of 12 years passed by like a shadow across the window, when looking back, everything seemed to have occurred in a previous life.
“Xiao Shu…” Meng Zhi grasped his hands tightly in his own, the skinny hands that were pale and white, imagining the how torturous the journey between life and death was for him.
“You must promise me, never to tell Jingyan!” Mei Chang Su looked outside the window, his gaze distracted and wondering. “The open and loveable close friend who grew up alongside him, and the cruel and dangerous strategist who will do anything beside him, will never ever be the same person. Isn’t that way better?”
“In the entire capital, only you and great grandmother know that I am Lin Shu returned, I don’t want there to be a third person. Meng Zhi, I’m relying on you!”
“You don’t have to worry about me, but how does the Great Empress Dowager know? These past few years her mind has started to go.”
“I also don’t know how she recognised me, I’ve obviously completely change, but when she looked at me and called me Xiao Shu, her gaze were very warm. I can assume that she didn’t call me wrongly…Maybe it is because her mind has started to go, that a lot of things she can’t remember so there aren’t any suspicions. I’m simply her Xiao Shu, I’m originally meant to be beside her, so she’s happy like that, without being surprised.”
Meng Zhi was a bit wary, “The Great Empress Dowager won’t say anything will she?”
“No,” Mei Chang Su replied simply, “Furthermore, now, no matter what she says, no one will take her seriously.”
“Ah…” Meng Zhi sighed, “So it’s like that.”
Mei CHang Su lifted his tea cup and took a sip, was quiet for a moment then spoke seriously, “Meng da ge, since you came today, I also have something I want to ask you…”
“You can ask.”
“These past few years, we lost communication a few times, why have you never let me know that Jingyu ge ge had a child who lost his father while still in his mother’s womb?”
“What did you say?” Meng Zhi asked, completely taken aback and almost couldn’t hemp but jumpup. “His Highness Prince Qi has a child?”
“Even you didn’t know?” Mei Chang Su was a little surprised. “Jingyan hid this very well. It is no wonder though, since if this information travelled to either the Crown Prince or Prince Yu then Tingsheng would lose his life…”
“Is this information accurate?” Meng Zhi’s expression was one of disbelief. “The males in Prince Qi’s residence all died, the females were all taken to the servant prison. Anyone with any sort of rank was beaten or exhausted to death within a year, how can there be a child still surviving?”
Mei Chang Su’s eyes became dark, he was deep in thought for a moment then said, “I can’t figure out the whole story, but Princess Consort Qi was very intelligent, good at reading a situation and Xiu Tong jie jie had unparalleled courage, both were no less heroes compared to their male counterparts. Even then, when the situation was chaotic, they were able to ensure the survival of Jingyu ge ge’s bloodline by risking death and hiding in the servant prison. It isn’t something that is impossible. Seeing Jingyan concerned about and looking after Tingsheng, it can be seen that he has already verified the child’s identity. It isn’t possible for this to be in error.”
“What does he look like? Does he look like Prince Qi?”
“The child has been mistreated since young, he is pale and thin. It isn’t always apparent but sometimes his eyebrows show an expression similar to Jingyu ge ge that year.”
“If Prince Jing already knows that the child is Prince Qi’s, why doesn’t he take better care of him, yet he leaves him to suffer like that?” Meng Zhi couldn’t hold his complaints.
“He has no other options. Without rhyme or reason to take care of a prison servant will make others suspicious. If he is a little careless and reveals the Tingsheng’s identity, then the Crown Prince and Prince Yu, will they let it go?”
“Even still, we can’t leave this child in a place like the servant prison forever.” Meng Zhi stood up emotionally, walking to and fro in the room. Fei Liu sat up on the bed, his eyes as cold as ice were alert and focused on man walking slowly back and forth.
“Fei Liu go to sleep!” Mei Chang Su turned around to soothe him and spoke to Meng Zhi, “Meng da ge, come sit down and we can discuss this. I know you’re worried but don’t you think Jingyan is as well? Tingsheng must be saved but a foolproof plan must be made to bring him out safely and quietly.”
“Do you have a plan yet?” Meng Zhi asked quickly.
“For the moment, I’ve thought of a plan but a few more details must be worked out. This can’t be rushed, haste makes waste.” Mei Chang Su glanced at Meng Zhi, his eyes furrowed. “Meng da ge is now the top master in Daliang, and is charged with the responsibility of commanding the imperial guards. Even living as far away as Langzhou, I had heard that people praise you as someone who is calm, stable and with a heart of steel. Why are you so impatient today?”
Meng Zhi scratched his head, sighed and spoke. “I also don’t know why, if it was anything else, even if Tai Shan were to crumble in front of me, keeping my expression blank isn’t difficult, but now, when talking with you, I’ve become reckless like I was back in my youth…Do you still remember the battle at Gourd Valley? If it wasn’t for His Highness Prince Qi’s three directions hand-sewn in gold thread on my bridle reins, then I would probably have fallen into the enemies’ trap. If Gourd Valley had been lost, then your father will definitely have taken my head for a ball.”
“Back then, my father really didn’t trust you, it’s just that after that, he also once said that if he were to compare the ability of assessing a person, then he really cannot compare with Prince Qi. Prince Qi could, through a martial arts tournament, pick a person who wasn’t the most out of thousands of soldiers like you…he didn’t have this vision.”
“But if you were to talk about strictness, subtlety and military strategy then who can compare with your father? That year, the Chiyan Army, wherever they went, caused the army there, even if they were an iron army, to tremble.” In talking about things in the past, after years of silence, Meng Zhi’s sense of pride was upwelling, it was a shame that there wasn’t any wine, all he could do was raise the tea cup to take a mouthful. He lamented, “The hateful thing is that not long after I was forcibly removed from the Chiyan Army, otherwise if I could have tried for a few more years under Prince Qi and your father, I could have learnt so much more.”
Mei Chang Su sighed heavily, “There is no gain without loss, if you had not left the Chiyan Army, then there’s no way of telling if you could have avoided the catastrophe of twelve years ago. Simply being a member of the Chiyan Army would have prevented you from rising to the position of commander of the imperial guards that you have now.”
When mentioning this, Meng Zhi immediately thought of something else, and couldn’t help but clench his teeth in bitterness, “Not necessarily, in court right now, isn’t there a member of the Chiyan Army who has been bestowed the highest honour, and completely cloaked in the title of ‘pillar of the country’?”
Mei Chang Su’s hands on the table started to tremble then immediately stilled, his fingertips pressed firmly down, turning red. As if he could print down all his hatred.
“All these years, having to interact with him has made me extremely uncomfortable, I could die!” Meng Zhi sighed heavily as if attempting to exhale all his anger and discomfort. “And you, why did you come here?”
“For safety,” Mei Chang Su answered simply.
“What? This place is safe?”
“At least it can avoid a lot of inconveniences.” Mei Chang Su’s tone was like ice, chilling to the bone. “Making use of those three youths to enter the capital has allowed me to meet the important people in court. This is a much better plan then accepting the offer to become a strategist for either the Crown Prince or Prince Yu, and coming to Jinling as if my hands and feet were chained.”
Meng Zhi thought for a while before nodding his agreement. It’s just that looking at Mei Chang Su’s stormy expression made him sense that he shouldn’t continue this line of conversation so changed the topic, “Do you have any thoughts regarding the tournament to choose a husband for Princess Nihuang this time?”
“Mu Manor of Yunnan is the barrier in the south of the nation, the Princess has tiredly sacrificed many years of her youth for the country. The only hope is that this time she can find a good person who wholeheartedly loves her, nothing else matters.”
“”Do you know, the Crown Prince and Prince Yu have both sent skilled people to participate in the tournament, if any of them succeed then your plan will be much more difficult to carry out.”
“The Princess’ intelligence far exceeds mine, I don’t need to worry about this. Only, Dayu and Northern Yan know that it’s extremely difficult to succeed yet they still come to request marriage. They must have made careful preparations, you need to pay a little more attention!”
“It’s not early anymore, you should return to the palace. When it’s time to put the plan to save Tingsheng into action, I will need to rely on your help. As for Wei Zheng, I will also trouble you to ensure they leave the capital, don’t allow them to return!”
Meng Zhi nodded and stood up. Taking one step out the door, he stopped walking overcome by a sense of nostalgia. He turned back to look at Mei Chang Su, eyes expressing clearly his compassion but understanding deep in his heart that there was a limit to what he could do. A feeling of discomfort welled up inside his chest, and without hesitation, he hugged him tightly.
The curtains moved gently, Fei Liu darted forward like lightning, making his hands like swords to attack directly at Meng Zhi’s throat. When Meng Zhi took a step back and avoided him, Fei Liu then immediately turned his body to continue his attack, each move was extremely cruel.
“Fei Liu!” Mei Chang Su hurriedly stepped in between the two people to prevent further attacks. “He’s simply saying goodbye to me, not bullying me, Fei Liu isn’t allowed to get angry!”
“Not allowed!” Fei Liu’s icy expression was extremely angry.
“okay, okay, in future we won’t say goodbye like that.” Mei Chang Su smiled in apology to Meng Zhi. ‘I hope Meng da ge can forgive him, our Fei Liu has always been like this.”
“That’s okay, I’m actually very happy to see that this child is so protective of you.” Meng Zhi smiled approvingly at Fei Liu. “You need to protect him well!”
Fei Liu ignored him, and stood alert next to his Su ge ge, not even taking a step away.
“Then I’ll take my leave first.” Meng Zhi once again, looked at Mei Chang Su intently, whispering, “Xiao Shu, you need to take care of your body, a hundred thousand times you can’t let anything happen, do you understand?”
Mei Chang Su felt his eyes start to burn, and tried to control it while nodding as if there was nothing out of the ordinary.
Fei Liu stared at Meng Zhi, clearly showing how impatient he was. After Meng Zhi took off out the window and out of sight, he immediately closed the window tightly.
“What’s wrong? Our Fei Liu doesn’t like uncle?” Mei Chang Su gently teased him.
“I don’t like!”
“Can’t beat him!”
“That’s okay.” Mei Chang Su rubbed his hair. “Our Fei Liu is still young, in the future when you reach uncle’s age, then you can definitely beat him.”
Fei Liu’s expression didn’t change but his gaze immediately became happy.
Mei Chang Su took his hand and personally sent him to bed, covered him in a blanket while gently singing a soft ballad until he peacefully closed his eyes before quietly leaving for his own bed.
For the following days of the tournament, Mei Chang Su didn’t attend but instead used the excuse of not being well to remain at Snow Cottage to recover.
After the last time the Crown Prince and Prince Yu came to visit, both sides realised that he wasn’t someone that could be persuaded by gifts or power, so before they could think of a new way, both didn’t come to bother him again.
Day after day he read books, played the zither and was dedicated to his convalescence. His complexion improved greatly.
As they had entered the tournament, Xiao Jingrui and Yan Yujin had to compete in matches everyday so they obviously couldn’t go to accompany Mei Chang Su. On the other hand, Xie Bi seemed to be very leisurely, everyday he made time to talk with him, every topic from the skies of the north to the lands of the south had been talked about. The only thing that wasn’t mentioned was Prince Yu.
Everyday after sunset, Snow Cottage became lively, a single Yan Yujin was loud enough to be the equivalent of ten people. He told stories of the tournament that day as if putting on a play for Mei Chang Su to witness, especially when describing when he and Xiao Jingrui were in the arena competing, his rhetoric became even more flowery. It was as if each of those matches were a major battle, enough to change the tide of the pugilist world. It seemed to be even more exciting than being there to witness the scene itself.
“Don’t you blush just listening to him?” Xie Bi would often bump his da ge’s arm beside him. “Is Yujin talking about you? Why is it that to me, it sounds like he’s talking about Erlangshen descending to the world? The only thing missing is a howling celestial dog by his side.”
Every time Xiao Jingrui would simply smile wryly but didn’t stop Yan Yujin from losing his fervour.
Only Fei Liu who was sitting beside them would coldly look upward, and occasionally speak one word, “Impossible!”
Yan Yujin thought for a long time before he understood Fei Liu’s meaning. After that, every time he explained specific moves, he didn’t dare to casually exaggerate anymore.
Of course it couldn’t be denied that even though he exaggerated a little but regarding strength, he and Xiao Jingrui were undoubtedly superb. The first few matches were not difficult, the last two days, although there was a little danger but in the end, the result was still ultimately, victory.
Every day, the Emperor would appear at Yingfeng Tower at the same time to show how important he viewed the tournament. Even though every one knew that he, at most, stayed for one to two matches, they all still felt very honoured.
Most of those who came to participate in the tournament didn’t want to only marry Princess Nihuang, because in the end only one person would receive this honour. For the most part, the participants viewed the tournament as an platform to perform, hoping they could gain reputation and raise their standing in the pugilist world or have someone with high rank take them under their wing and help them in their career.
Just like that, everyone put in all their effort, this tournament to find a suitor became very entertaining. It drew the focus of the world, just as intended. Every day, there was someone who would sadly leave the arena, became famous after one victory. Compared to the ultimate honour, wealth, fame and power, the entire process couldn’t be said to not be interesting, just that there were not enough surprises.
Although unexpected surprises were slow to appear, but eventually appear they did.
In the evening of the seventh day since the start of the tournament, when Mei Chang Su saw the heavy expressions of Yan Yujin and Xiao Jingrui when they ran into Snow Cottage, he already knew that something unexpected had happened to cause such fear.
“Su xiong! Su xiong!” The person who had started shouting loudly as soon as they entered was of course, Yan Yujin.
Because he had just run quite a distance, his cheeks were red and forehead was trickling with sweat. He ran forward and pulled out a seat and sat down, and without catching his breath he stated, “This isn’t good, something has happened!”
“What’s wrong?” Mei Chang Su placed the book he was holding down and sat up straight. “Did you and Jingrui lose?”
“What is the hurry if we lost? But today Shang Zhi lost!”
“Qin Shang Zhi?” Mei Chang Su furrowed his eyebrows, thinking that this couldn’t be right. “Even though he could be considered a master among the younger generation but hasn’t reached the highest level, losing isn’t that surprising.”
Just then, XIao JIngrui also sat down, his expression was very serious. “Him losing isn’t that unusual, but the problem is he lost immediately after one move!”
Mei Chang Su couldn’t help but be surprised, “How can that be? Even if his opponent was commander general Meng, then it still wouldn’t cause him to lose in one move.”
“That’s why I said that something big has happened!” Yan Yujin stamped his feet, saying.
“Unless the person that defeated him isn’t someone from Daliang?”
“If it was someone from Daliang then we wouldn’t be so impatient like this. It was a person from Northern Yan with a very strange name, called Baili Qi. In the previous rounds, he pretended to fight his matches with great difficulty. Seeing that tomorrow is the final round, today he suddenly improved. It was as if, not only did he have to win, but had to scare his remaining opponents as well.”
Mei Chang Su furrowed his eyebrows, “Other than Ta Ba Hao, Northern Yan still has someone like this?”
“This person practices ying gong [硬功], with a coarse outer appearance and muscle like iron. Shang Zhi looked down on him as a barbarian, the result was that after one attack, his opponent stood still and didn’t even try to avoid him. After that, used the opportunity of when he still hadn’t recovered his stance to use a single palm thrust directed at his shoulder, causing his arm to become useless and have to admit defeat.” Although Xiao Jingrui was equally anxious but he didn’t outwardly reveal his thoughts, his expression simply turned dark, his voice was relatively calm, “Although saying that he lost in one move is a bit unfair, but that Baili Qi’s strength can’t be faked. For someone that has put much effort in to training, if he met someone with a strong foundation, great internal energy like commander general Meng, then maybe he would yet be able to do anything, but…”
Speaking up till here, he stopped as if he didn’t dare to speak further, but Mei Chang Su understood his thoughts.
Princess Nihuang was still only female, her martial arts relied on technique rather than internal energy. There could only be losses in facing someone that practices ying gong, if she is at all careless, and is defeated then it will be a big problem.
“Don’t be so panicked!” Xie Bi who was already at Snow Cottage talking to Mei Chang Su, now interrupted. “According to the rules of the competition, this occurrence isn’t necessarily the end of it all. Even if that Baili Qi advances to the top ten people then the right to decide in the written examination is still in the hands of the Emperor. By then, simply rank him last and that will be the end of that!”
Mei Chang Su’s gaze was a little heavy, he shook his head and said, “If that happens, then Princess Nihuang’s ability to choose won’t be guaranteed. She had planned that if she didn’t like anyone she saw, she simply had to do her best to defeat them, if she didn’t like anyone in the ten people, then she simply wouldn’t marry. But now, a master has appeared that will be very difficult to defeat. If she absolutely doesn’t want to marry him, then even if he is ranked last, then he’s still a threat. To avoid the result of being defeated by him in the final match, the Princess will need to choose one from the remaining nine before him as her husband. I’m afraid that for someone who is as proud and arrogant as she is, to be forced into this situation will be very humiliating.”
“The match tomorrow will determine the ten people to advance to the final round, can Su xiong come to watch?” Xiao Jingrui went close to Mei Chang Su and whispered. “Your understanding of martial arts far surpasses ours, maybe you will be able to judge just how dangerous that Baili Qi is, and how to deal with him…”
“You and Yujin have to fight this person?”
“No.” Xiao Jingrui denied, shaking his head. “Yujin and I aren’t in the same group as him, regardless of whether we win or lose tomorrow, we won’t have to face him. It’s just that, if tomorrow he wins then he will definitely become a finalist. I hope that Su xiong can observe him a little to help Princess Nihuang.”
“That’s right, that’s right.” Yan Yujin agreed. “Jingrui’s martial arts skills originally weren’t really much better than mine, but after having Su xiong instruct him on the way back to the capital, his skills have improved to surpass me.
Mei Chang Su smiled faintly, “The Princess has reached the peak of martial arts, and has been ranked among first-class masters, even if I want to help, there are limits to what I can do. Jingrui and her are different to each other, Jingrui’s martial arts isn’t as good as hers, so I can help Jingrui more.”
“Su xiong!” Xiao Jingrui made a suffering face, “Can you put it a bit milder? Your way of putting it really hurts people!”
“It’s just that, after tomorrow’s match, the Princess will have to face a dangerous, foreign, martial arts master.” Mei Chang Su’s eyebrows furrowed together. “We need to think of a way to form another ‘barrier’ in between.”
“What plan does Su xiong have?” Yan Yujin hurriedly asked.
“Tomorrow, before the match, the Emperor could pass an edict to add another two days of challenges.”
“Days of challenges?”
“Yes. The reason is to avoid any injustices that could occur as a result of the match groupings. Tomorrow, the final ten winners will be the people being challenged. All the people who lost in the previous days will be able to challenge one winner from a different grouping to their own. If they fight one match and win, then they can replace them and participate in the written examination. Those with the confidence to challenge the winners definitely won’t be commoners. Even if they can’t defeat Baili Qi, at least they can help the Princess to gain experience.”
The three young masters took turns nodding their heads, Yan Yujin complimented, “What a good idea!”
“It’s just that you will need to enter the palace this evening to suggest the Emperor pass down this edict immediately.” Mei Chang Su reminded them.
“This is a small matter, I’ll enter the palace immediately.” Yan Yujin spoke quickly without hesitation.
“No need, no need!” Xie Bi hurriedly stopped him, even though he was a little embarrassed but in the end, red-faced, requested, “Is it possible to allow Prince Jing to suggest this?”
There was no one present who was stupid, as soon as they heard, they knew what he was planning. No one said anything, they all glanced at him with disdain.
It was almost guaranteed that if the Emperor received reports about Baili Qi, then he would immediately become anxious. Right now, anyone that went before him to suggest this would of course make him very happy. On the Princess’ side, it could be seen as owing the person a favour. All those who were defeated would be given another chance would of course be happy, even the ten people who won wouldn’t oppose the idea since it would be another opportunity for them to show-off their abilities. If they did oppose, it would be like announcing that their strength was only so much.
So no matter from what angle, this situation would be sorrowful for one but joyful for ten. No matter how hesitant Xie Bi was, he still had to stand-out to request for Prince Yu.
“If Xie Bi wants to be the runner then he can go.” After a while, Mei Chang Su replied faintly.
Xie Bi was ecstatic, after saying “Thank you”, he hurriedly stood up and left.
As soon as he left, the room suddenly became strangely quiet.
Mei Chang Su tilted his head back, leant on the warm resting pillow and closed his eyes to rest. Xiao Jingrui had not wanted to become involved, not to mention it involved his younger brother so it made it even more difficult to decide what he should say. Although Yan Yujin had no side, but because of his relationship with Empress Yan, and considering it had connections to Prince Yu, he also wasn’t free to make comment.
It was just silent.
After a long time, eventually Yan Yujin couldn’t sit still any longer, and thought of a question, “Does everyone think it strange, based on just one palm thrust of Baili Qi today, then he has the ability to stand on the list of the top ten masters in the world. Why is it that on the Lang Ya list, there isn’t a shadow of him?”
“You don’t know, yet you still make out like you’re a person in the pugilist world?” Without waiting for Mei Chang Su to speak, Xiao Jingrui had already responded. “From the beginning, the martial arts masters list of Lang Ya hall had stated clearly that they would rank based on the fights that have already occurred between masters around the world. Those who hide away and never expose themselves in the pugilist world, even if their martial arts had reached a superior state, as long as they don’t use it then Lang Ya hall won’t pay attention. Of course, sometimes this list of standings has caused everyone to be surprised, but that’s only because Lang Ya hall’s information is always sensitive and comprehensive. A lot of fights that occur in secret to avoid anyone knowing, yet they are still able to investigate the results. So there will be some discrepancies with the view of the general population. Now that Baili Qi has come into the limelight, then he will definitely be on the masters list next year.”
“Huh, aren’t you relying on the few things you learnt from Su xiong? Yet you’re attempting to teach me a lesson.” Yan Yujin puffed up his cheeks and widened his eyes. “Tomorrow I will move my residence to Snow Cottage!”
Xiao Jingrui laughed, “You’re even noisier than a thousand crows, even if Su xiong can stand it, Fei Liu won’t…”
He hadn’t finished speaking when a cold voice suddenly called from the treetop above their heads, “Fei Liu refuses!” Yan Yujin jerked up and quickly moved closer to Mei Chang Su.
“Fei Liu has returned?” A smile appeared on Mei Chang Su’s face, as soon as he raised his hand, a silhouette flashed by. Fei Liu had surged forward to nestle against him.
“Was it fun outside?”
“Fei Liu, you won’t like it if Yujin ge ge moved to live here?”
“Don’t like it!”
Yan Yujin’s eyes flashed with curiosity, “Very like what?”
Mei Chang Su broke out in laughter and replied, “He said that you’re like that Lin Chen from Jiangzuo. He is the person that Fei Liu feels the most uncomfortable with.” After saying this, he turned around to gently tease the boy, “Why do you say that they are similar? Yujin ge ge has never teased you before.”
Fei Liu coldly turned his wide eyes to the son of the royal uncle, his voice as if it was wrapped in ice, “In his heart he wants to tease.”
“Hey, hey, hey!” Yan Yujin hurriedly waved his hands. “Gentleman are not punished for what is in their hearts, otherwise it’s easy to mistakenly punish a good person…”
“That’s right.” Mei Chang Su laughed while gasping, “Fei Liu, you don’t need to worry about him any more, in the room there is food for you. They’re all your favourite, hurry and eat!”
Fei Liu made a sound of agreement and stared at Yan Yujin before disappearing.
Xiao Jingrui looked at his good friend’s complexion and doubled over in laughter, unable to stand up. After a while he slowly stopped laughing and patted him soothingly on the shoulder.
“You don’t have many opportunities to laugh at me, so keep laughing.” Yan Yujin made it seem as if he was being generous, waved his hand and turned to Mei Chang Su. “Then will Su xiong be going tomorrow?”
“Since there is so much fun then of course I’ll go.” Mei Chang Su laughed gently. “It’s just that, but this idea of challenges will cause you two trouble, sorry!”
“This is good! Everyone needs to rely on their true abilities.” Yan Yujin laughed heartily. “Having someone else take care of you isn’t comfortable.”
Xiao Jingrui was frozen for a moment, “What do you mean take care of you?”
Yan Yujin glanced at him, “You’re slow to understand yet you still have the audacity to laugh at me?”
“Jingrui.” Mei Chang Su patted his hand, lowered his voice and said, “This is the tournament to choose a husband not to choose soldiers for the battlefield. Youths with a handsome appearance, good personality, good ancestry like you two need to be taken care of by the court. Can’t you tell that the people in your groupings are all rather weak?”
“Hah?” Because of his peaceful nature, Xiao Jingrui never liked to think too much so he didn’t really pay attention to this matter. Now that he was being told, his entire body was frozen in shock.
“You thought that you were very skilled right?” Yan Yujin took the opportunity to mock him. “In the pugilist world as well as in the capital, if it was said that you didn’t rely on your identity then who would believe it?”
“Yujin!” Mei Chang Su laughed, “How is there such a friend as you? Why do you always have to make Jingrui unhappy?”
“Su xiong, you don’t need to spoil him.” Yan Yujin shook his head. “There are some things that he needs to learn for his own good. Jingrui is too kind-hearted, that’s not good. He needs to be more like me, although I’m carefree and unassuming but what I know what I need to know.”
Both Mei Chang Su’s eyes flashed darkly, lowered his voice and sighed, “You are really straightforward, a true hero. If Jingrui could be like you then it would be really good…”
Xiao Jingrui looked from one person to the other, in the end he couldn’t take it anymore and raise his hands to the middle of them, grudgingly saying, “Stop! Stop! What is it that you two are talking about? I’m not stupid, even if I’m a little naive but not to the point where I’m like this person without a heart or conscience.”
Mei Change Su gently replied, “Of course you’re good, I also hope that I can be your friend like this always. But you’re too affectionate, in the future, it can’t be helped that this will cause you trouble. We’re only trying to make you realise this a bit earlier.”
Hearing him say this clearly, Xiao Jingrui felt himself warm from the inside and immediately replied, “Su xiong, don’t worry, the pugilist world can’t be missing someone like me. No matter how weak I may be, it is still not to the point that I can’t deal with situations that arise, letting family and friends worry about me…” All of a sudden his tone changed and he glanced at Yan Yujin. “Forget about you, don’t pretend to be like Su xiong with such a deep expression.”
“Hey, hey!” Yan Yujin exclaimed with his hands on his hips, “Su xiong worries about you and you immediately feel grateful, while when I express my concern, you give me dirty looks, don’t you find that hte difference is too great?”
“Letting someone like you who has been spoiled since young worry about me?” Xiao Jingrui gave him a dirty look. “Then what face do I have? Hurry and move further away from me!”
“You dare to look down on me, if you have the guts then fight me!” Yan Yujin rolled up his sleeves and surged forward. The two people fought without using any specific moves like to naughty children. Even Fei Liu, inside the room, couldn’t help but be disturbed and poke his head out to have a look.
Mei Chang Su smiled faintly while watching them, his eyes expressing a somewhat elusive emotion.
<< Chapter 04 Chapter 06 >>
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.