CHAPTER 6:Audience with the Emperor

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Fang Tian Shuo [方天槊] – direct translation can be considered as heaven power lance
tẩy mã / xi ma [洗馬] – an official position within the personal household of a prince
Đông Khư [東墟] – direct translation is East old burial grounds but I have used East Grounds instead
khinh công [輕功] – the skill of walking lightly, often depicted as the ability to ‘fly’, I have termed it ‘lightness skill’
cửu ngũ chí tôn [九五至尊] – roughly translates ‘the King of Yesterday and Tomorrow’
Nhi thần / Erchen [兒臣] – the way that the imperial family refer to themselves before the Emperor or his consorts
công tử / gongzhi [公子] – in this context, I have translated it as ‘son of’

The following day, Mei Chang Su went to Yifeng Tower as previously agreed. He sat in the brocade tent belonging to the Marquis of Ning, with Xie Bi sitting beside him.

Before the matches began, a eunuch in green clothing came bearing a decree to announce the new order for the tournament.

As it was a decree with a legitimate reason, so there was no one who opposed it. Once the eunuch finished the announcement, there was no effect to the starting time for the day’s matches.

Every match that Xiao Jingrui and Yan Yujin were to take part in were relatively early. After a while, both of them began preparing to enter the arena.

For the final day of matches, no matter how weak the grouping was, those that remained at least had some skill. Their opponents couldn’t be underestimated.

Xiao Jingrui entered the arena first and was faced with a young swordsman, about twenty years old. Both their ages were about the same, similar weapons, and as soon as the fight began it was strength against strength and speed against speed. The match was enjoyable to watch. Even though it wasn’t very fluid, but with this style, the result came about fairly quickly.

Xiao Jingrui’s skill was a level above, the other person was very straight-forward about accepting defeat and stepping down from the arena. From his mannerism, it could be seen that he was a candid person.

Mei Chang Su saw from afar, Meng Zhi sending someone to seek audience with the young swordsman. He must have liked the youths temperament and wanted to recruit him.

As soon as Yan Yujin’s opponent appeared, it could be seen that he was someone part of the pugilist world with a fair bit of fighting experience. He had a steady stride, firm gaze, a weathered face with high temples. Both his hands were covered in callouses and it was evident that he was someone who practiced martial arts with much dedication. His appearance was in stark contrast to that of the son of the Empress’ brother, who, with a face of jade, was walking without care, up to the arena. This match seemed to be worth watching.

“Thinking about it, this is the first time that I will see Yujin in action.” Mei Chang Su said, leaning towards Xiao Jingrui who had just entered the tent as he watched the fighting fists and kicks being displayed in the arena. “I had always felt it strange, you have Tianquan Manor behind you, and your father on this side has had numerous successful military exploits, having good martial arts is only natural. But Yujin’s family have been civil servants for generations, with a noble lineage and have never had dealings with the pugilist world, yet I’ve heard you both say that his martial arts skills aren’t that far behind yours? The result is that today, I have finally understood, Yujin is actually a disciple of Qian Men. I really have underestimated him.”

“Yujin still has still not officially become a disciple, it’s just that, when he was young he was seriously ill and required a superior method of internal cultivation to protect his body. The leader of Qian Men and his deceased paternal grandfather were old acquaintances so he was accepted as a disciple in name only. It was never announced publicly so we didn’t tell Su xiong.” Xiao Jingrui quickly explained.

Mei Chang Su smiled without saying anything and continued to study the arena.

Qian Men’s martial arts had always been renowned for the motion of one’s body and the number of moves, it required a lot of an individual’s abilities rather than relying on whether or not a they practiced enough. It really was very suitable for Yan Yujin’s personality.

The only thing that could be seen were his sleeves fluttering in the arena and the fan in his hand, dancing. Momentarily, it couldn’t be seen whether he had lethal abilities or not but at least his ability to be cool and chic was definitely number one.

“It seems that I wasn’t the only one to underestimate him, even Lang Ya hall master hasn’t ranked his standing correctly.” Mei Chang Su speculated while smiling gently and clapping. At the moment that his hands met, the grey figure in the arena was sent flying. Yan Yujin, with his bright clothes and incensed fan, walked slowly to the centre of the arena and tilted his chin up slightly while smiling brightly. His eyes seemed to have made a once over of the entire audience.

“I don’t feel that there is anything wrong.” Xia Bi tilted his head, saying. “Just looking at how frivolous he is, being ranked at tenth is already very good.”

Xiao Jingrui had already become accustomed to seeing his good friend like that so at this time, pretended he didn’t see anything. He simply lowered his head to whisper to Mei Chang Su, “The next match is when Baili Qi will enter the arena.”

Mei Chang Su nodded slightly and raised his tea cup to take a sip.

At this time, Yan Yujin had arrived full of self-satisfaction. He loudly asked them if they saw clearly the power and prestige of his stage.

“You call yourself prestigious?” Xiao Jingrui couldn’t help but tease. “I think your opponent was dazzled by your fan and slipped and fell.”

“You are just jealous of me.” Yan Yujin curled his lips and ignored him, walking to where Mei Chang Su was and inserted himself to push Xie Bi away. “Su xiong what do you think? Am I more qualified than Jingrui?”

“Yes,” Mei Chang Su said laughingly. “It’s just that you fool around too much. You could have obviously ended at the fifty-eighth move yet you dragged it out to the sixty-third. Just so I could see your ‘falling petals’ technique.”

Yan Yujin froze for a moment, his eyes showed a fleeting sense of admiration. “Su xiong has a really good eye. It’s a shame that my opponent wasn’t beautiful like a flower, otherwise after that move, they would lightly fall to the ground just like flowers falling from the sky.”

Xiao Jingrui grunted, “If your opponent was a beautiful lady, I’m afraid the person falling to the ground lightly would be you!”

“Don’t joke around anymore, someone has gone up. This is Baili Qi?” Xie Bi knocked on the table, saying.

Everyone raised their heads to look, sure enough, the next round of fighters had entered and stood in the arena.

Among them was a waspish person, wearing green clothes tied at the waist, and soft armour and armed with a square hilt heaven lance, a weapon most suitable for use on horseback in the army. This person being able to enter the final round really wasn’t simple.

The person across from him was very burly man with a lot of muscle, you could even see the muscles clearly under his clothing. He only used his hands and no weapons, this could only be Baili Qi who won with a single move yesterday.

“A savage and ugly person like that isn’t worthy of the Princess.” Seeing Baili Qi for the first time, Xie Bi was naturally more excitable, immediately said. “Not to mention he’s an outsider of Northern Yan, no matter what, a way needs to be found to defeat him.”

“Who is that man?”

“Let me check.” Xie Bi scanned the page in his hands. “He’s a brilliant lieutenant from the Shuwen camp, name Fang Tian Shuo…oh, his name is the same as his weapon…”

“Second brother, Su xiong isn’t asking about this person.” Xiao Jingrui pushed him before turning to Mei Chang Su and saying, “That is the young prince who recently inherited the title for Mu manor of Yunnan. He probably received news about yesterday, and worrying for his sister has come to sit outside to better see.”

“Jingrui, Su xiong isn’t asking about that person.” Yan Yujin sneered. “He’s wearing silver dragon robes sitting under the canopy with the word Mu clearly written on it, anyone can see that he is the little prince of Mu manor. Su xiong is asking about the person behind him.”

“Do you know?” Mei Chang Su turned his head.

“I don’t.”

“if you don’t know then why are you saying so much?” Xiao Jingrui stood up. “I’m going outside to ask around.”

Mei Chang Su reached out to stop him. “No need, that person has an impressive air about him, I was just casually asking. He’s probably an important general in Mu manor, there’s no need to carefully inquire.”

“That person is General Zhang Sun of our manor.” A voice suddenly sounded from outside the tent entrance. Xiao Jingrui immediately moved to stand in front.

A middle-aged man wearing the dark red clothing of officials, bowed slightly in ceremony, “Taking the liberty of visiting, if I have scared you, please let me apologise.”

“So it is your excellency, xi ma [洗馬] of Mu manor.” Although not knowing the identity of the newcomer, but from the clothing, Xie Bi could partly guess and hurriedly stood up to return the greeting. “What is it that has brought your excellency here today?”

He had yet to respond when suddenly Yan Yujin called out, “Oh, he lost!”

Mei Chang Su saw Baili Qi just defeat his opponent in the moment that everyone had chatted. He stood in the arena with a blank expression. Mei Chang Su shook his head and sighed.

Although today’s match wasn’t won with a single move, but the process was very one-sided.

Baili Qi’s agility wasn’t anything spectacular, it was just that his body was very solid. His opponent used technique to fight his strength, but there was simply no way to strike. A single defensive void led to his defeat.

The middle-aged man in red used the opportunity to say, “I am Mu manor’s xi ma, Wei Jing’an, came here to seek Su xiansheng exactly because of this matter.”

“No need to be so polite, since you have come to this tent then there is no need to request an audience. You’ve come here as a guest, please sit, please sit!” Yan Yujin carelessly pulled over a seat, as if he was the master of the tent of the Marquis of Ning.

“Thank you!” Wei Jing’an sat down and got straight to the point, “In all the world, the person most concerned about this suitor tournament is obviously our Mu manor of Yunnan. Yesterday, Baili Qi gained acclaim after one match. Although the princess remains calm but the little prince is very disturbed, so sent me to meet Su xiansheng, allow me to ask, what should we do?”

As soon as he finished speaking, not even mentioning anyone else, Mei Chang Su himself couldn’t help but be surprised.

Everyone assembled in this tent was indeed talking about Baili Qi, but that was simply the concerns as citizens of Daliang out of respect for Princess Nihuang. Yet hearing Wei Jing’an, it was as if it was up to Mei Chang Su to manage the situation.

“Wei xi ma.” Mei Chang Su thought for a while before cautiously responding, “Does the little prince feel that I, Su Zhe, should take action?”

“Shouldn’t we take action?” Wei Jing’an furrowed his eyebrows. “Unless xiansheng feels that Baili Qi is simply not enough to become a threat?”

“This, I don’t dare to talk about carelessly. It’s just that I feel it strange…why did the little prince think of asking me?”

Wei Jing’an was also surprised, opening his eyes wide, he asked, “Didn’t you promise our princess that this martial arts tournament was simply to comply with the Emperor’s wish, but in reality, no one will be chosen?”

This statement caused everyone to be even more surprised than what was previously said. The three younger people were dazed and they all turned to look at Mei Chang Su intently.

After entering the capital, Mei Chang Su had only met Princess Nihuang once, it was unexpected that he could move so fast to already have come upon such an arrangement. Yet he could still tolerate it, watching everyone busying themselves with tournament and he still didn’t say a word.

Of course in group of people being surprised, Mei Chang Su himself was also included. He was preparing to clarify himself when he began to cough from inhaling cold air. Xiao Jingrui’s face darkened while standing beside him but could only stay angry for a moment before becoming soft-hearted, and taking a step to pat his back.

“Wei xi ma, although I do not know where you heard that from, but I will bother you to pass word on to the little prince.” Mei Chang Su took a sip of hot tea to wet his throat. “Princess really did request that I help, but the content of that request is completely different to what you have just said. I think, that the little prince has misunderstood.”

“Misunderstood?” Wei Jing’an was startled. “Then what did the princess request of you?”

“Princess was just worried that the Emperor would be tired so requested that I govern the written examination for the top ten finalists, nothing else.”

Wei Jing’an saw that he didn’t look like a person who was lying, more so he had no reason to lie, so he seemed momentarily anxious.

He didn’t know what was exchanged between the princess and little prince, but from the instructions of the little prince today, it could be seen that this Su Zhe was someone that the princess highly trusted and favoured. So just then, when he first entered, at first glance, although he seemed elegant, but he had a weak body and wasn’t worthy of someone as heroic as the princess. Now that he had denied it, he could feel reassured.

“Then I was reckless, I hope that Su xiansheng won’t take it to heart!” Wei Jing’an brought his hands together in ceremony, “Even still, the princess was willing to put such an important matter as governing the written examination into your hands, this shows that princess has considered you as a good friend. Then xiansheng definitely won’t stand idly without doing anything regarding the situation with Baili Qi?”

“How can I not put in my best effort? I also hope that the little prince won’t be too worried, what type of person is the princess, no matter how large the waves or winds, princess can overcome them all. It has yet to reach the point that there will be mistakes made in such an important matter for the rest of her life. I think that this situation, princess can also easily resolve.”

“Thank you xiansheng for your kind words.” Wei Jing’an acted very cooly. He had no more to say up to this point so bid farewell to everyone in the tent and returned.

“Fei Liu didn’t come today?” Yan Yujin looked at his retreating back, asking. “Even though there are a lot of people outside causing us to not pay too much attention, but to allow him to walk straight in the tent’s entrance and hear us talking…”

“East Grounds has a market today, I allowed Fei Liu to go play.” Mei Chang Su laughed. “Although, xi ma is a civilian official, yet he has such level of lightness skill, it is very rare. Looking at the attitude of General Zhang Sun next to the little prince, this Mu manor of Yunnan really has a lot of talent. They’re really worthy of being known as the largest military governorship.”

“Furthermore, such a large assembly as this and no one from Yunnan has come to register. You can tell that the princess, to them, is like a mountain that can only be looked at but don’t dare to have wishful thinking.” Xie Bi also inserted.

“Jingrui, what’s wrong?” Mei Chang Su asked quietly, realising that the young man beside him had a strange expression on his face.

Xiao Jingrui scrunched up his face, mumbling, “Princess asked you to take charge of the written examination, but why didn’t you let me know?”

Xie Bi asked confusedly, “Why? Does Su xiong need to notify you?”

“Jingrui.” Mei Chang Su didn’t tease him but took care to explain. “Since princess made the request, I certainly need to accept it. It’s just that for something so significant as governing the written examination, can a simple request from the princess be enough? It needs His Majesty’s approval. These past few days I haven’t heard anything, so I thought that His Majesty didn’t approve. That’s why I didn’t tell you all.”

“Not mentioning it is also normal, Su xiong is a reliable person, of course he wouldn’t make noise about something that hasn’t been decided yet.” Xie Bi laughed out loud. “I only find it strange that da ge is so angry like that.”

Xiao Jingrui reflected, and also felt that he was a bit unreasonable and he blushed a little.

Yan Yujin also covered his mouth while laughing for a while before teasing, “Jingrui likes Su xiong, he always feels that Su xiong was brought to Jinling by him, so of course should be closer to him. Now, he has realised that there are other people that like Su xiong that he doesn’t know, so of course he feels jealous.”

“Who…who is jealous?”

“Da ge has always been petty, even since young. Whatever he likes, he definitely won’t let go, not even allowing me to touch it. Why is that you’ve grown-up now but you still haven’t changed this attitude?”

“What are you talking about? What did I keep from you?”

“That red-maned horse.”

“That horse was very aggressive, you had only ridden it for a little bit before falling off, of course I didn’t dare to let you ride it anymore. What if you fell off and became foolish, what then?”

“There’s also Lin Shu ge ge.” Yan Yujin added to the banter, “Lin Shu ge ge taught you archery, and you were very happy. The next day, you realised that he had also taught me, so for the next few days you wouldn’t even talk to me!”

Mei Chang Su felt his chest tighten, as if all the blood in his body had frozen, and his complexion turned white.

“What’s wrong?” Xiao Jingrui walked quickly towards him and asked, “You feel uncomfortable again? Lately, you’ve often become like this, why is the medicine that Xuan xiansheng given you not taken effect?”

“There’s no such thing as miracle medicine?” Mei Chang Su barely smiled, “I’m already much better than before, when an attack occurs, there’s only a brief moment of pain before I recover quickly.”

“The tent is too cold.” Yan Yujin brought a leather coat over. “I asked them to bring another pot of charcoal in.”

“It still isn’t winter yet, it hasn’t reached that point yet.” Mei Chang Su smiled and glanced at the two of them. “Do you two normally work together like this to bully Jingrui?”

“Yes.” Yan yujin grinned, “Bullying him is very fun. Su xiong, do you want to participate as well?”

“Hey, you…”

Mei Chang Su turned around to hold on to Xiao Jingrui, and whispered, “You’ve been friends with him for so many years yet you still don’t understand him? The more you get angry at him, the more pleased he will be. If you ignore him, then he can’t bully himself.”

“huh, Su xiong is really biased towards Jingrui!” Yan Yujin protested. “It’s okay even if you teach him, I can think of other ways to bully him. Jingrui, are you afraid?”

Xiao Jingrui is an intelligent person who understands immediately once he’s been taught. This time, he didn’t pay attention to Yan Yujin and continued a whispered conversation with Mei Chang Su.

A single punch to the cotton bag, the son of the Empress’ brother became bored and made a few rounds of the tent before going outside to find something interesting to do.

That day, Mei Chang Su watched all the final round matches before returning. As he was tired, he only ate a few mouthfuls of dinner, causing Xiao Jingrui and Fei Liu to be very worried.

But he was still determined to go and watch the two days of challenges, saying that he couldn’t let down princess’ trust in him.

The challenge rounds had only just been started but already, they were very effective. In the ten people who won the matches, three had been defeated by their challengers. The final ten winners were bestowed imperial wine and rewarded gold flowers, and were allowed to rest for three days before having to enter the palace for the written examination.

“Looking at your expression Su xiong, it doesn’t seem like you’re satisfied with the ten of us aye?” That night, meeting at Snow Cottage, Yan Yujin, holding his gold flower asked Mei Chang Su.

“It could be considered that these are people with the best abilities already.” Mei Chang Su sighed, “But as soon as I think about Princess Nihuang being a descended divine being, I feel that there is still something lacking.”

“Jingrui and I are still lacking?” Yan Yujin wasn’t convinced. “In considering character and appearance, we’ve both always been considered the best in the capital.”

Mei Chang Su glanced at the both of them before quickly inserting, “You are both still too young.”

Yan Yujin was so angry he couldn’t speak, his eyes widened, “Being young can also be blamed on us? We aren’t that much younger than the princess.”

“You, don’t make so much noise.” Xiao Jingrui pushed him. “The both of us have only come to make up the numbers, to filter out the people not worthy, to help out the princess.”

“Hey, you wanted to come make up the numbers, don’t pull me into it okay? I’m serious.” Yan Yujin made a very serious expression.

“How long have you been alive, have you ever been serious? Even if you were serious, then it still isn’t good. What type of woman likes a husband younger than her?”

“Ha ha.” Yan Yujin laughed strangely, “You want to teach me a lesson? Miss Yun is obviously older than you by six years, why don’t you do the math on how many years you have been chasing her?”

Seeing Xiao Jingrui unable to speak, Mei Chang Su quickly said, “Jingrui is someone who values emotion and honour, no matter how much he has admired Miss Yun, he still hasn’t entangled himself to the point where she feels troubled. This time, you should also learn from him, so that the princess can make her own decision. That’s how you can be considered as a good and candid man.”

Yan Yujin held his chest and resented, “Jingrui, you now have someone backing you. In the future, with Su xiong helping you, even if I want to bully you, it won’t be easy like before anymore…”

Seeing him act so exaggeratedly, everyone broke out laughing and the atmosphere immediately became much lighter.

They were all talking and laughing leisurely when a servant came running in panic, and out of breath stated, “A eunuch from the palace has come to announce an imperial decree, the Marquis has asked everyone to quickly come to the antechamber…”

Everyone here had seen an imperial decree numerous times so were not flustered, they all stood up and bid farewell to Mei Chang Su.

“No…not…” The servant quickly said. “The main person is Su xiansheng…Su xiansheng is to receive…”

“Me?” Mei Chang Su was startled, but thought that even if he asked this servant then he wouldn’t be able to find out anything so immediately stood up to change before leaving with everyone to the antechamber.

The imperial eunuch stood at the front of room, in his hands held the imperial decree. After waiting for everyone to kneel, he then flicked his hossu and loudly announced, “The Holy and Exalted One’s decree orders the appearance of Su Zhe in the palace tomorrow afternoon. Receive this grace.”

Everyone gave thanks before rising, the younger ones guessed that Princess Nihuang must have reported to the Emperor so didn’t find it surprising. Tonight, Grand Princess Liyang was not home, so the only person surprised was the Marquis of Ning, Xie Yu.

He was always focused on work, and never asked about the trivial matters, so didn’t really pay attention to the guest staying at Snow Cottage. Of course he didn’t understand why the Emperor would suddenly seek an audience with someone part of the pugilist world. It’s just that, if he was to ask this directly then it would be a bit impolite. He could only think on this matter before carefully asking, “On Su xiansheng entering the palace tomorrow, do you know what His Majesty wants? I can prepare a bit to help you.”

Mei Chang Su understood his intent, and easily replied, “I am talentless, only that I have strength of vision and have received misplaced kindness from everyone. The day before, Princess Nihuang had requested that I assist her in governing the written examination. I think His Majesty has requested me for this reason.”

Although distracted, reflecting on his reputation as Sir Mei of Jiangzuo, then it really wasn’t that surprising. Xie Yu was relieved, then bowed before returning to the back garden.

Early the next day, a carriage from Mu manor was waiting for them, confirming their previous thoughts.

Although they were sons of prominent families, but after all, the palace wasn’t a market, it couldn’t be entered simply because you wished it. They could continue to worry and be intrigued, but in the end, only Mei Chang Su boarded the carriage. He took the opportunity to give Xiao Jingrui an errand, look after Fei Liu.

The carriage arrived outside the palace gates, then was changed to a blue palanquin. Mei Chang Su felt a disturbance in his state of mind, so hurriedly closed his eye to regain himself.

Entering the Ceremonial Gate, he lowered himself down from the palanquin and went on foot. Looking at the route, they ought to be heading to Wu Ying Hall.

Arriving at the corner of the hall, he saw a group of people coming from the nearby balcony. The youth in the centre wore a long gown with the embroidered image of the dragon King of the Eastern Sea, appearance like jade and with a youthful face but not without an air of bravery. From a distance, he was already watching Mei Chang Su intently with a curious gaze. Seeing him looking back, the youth quickly allowed a smile to appear on his face, his expression very friendly as if it was the first time the younger met the elder brother-in-law. This made Mei Chang Su feel like laughing and crying at the same time. Though, when he turned, he saw the mischievous smile of Princess Nihuang and knew immediately that this was the doing of the female general of the southern border.

“Su xiansheng seems to be much better today.” Princess Nihuang leisurely walked over. “Come and acquaint yourself, this is my younger brother.”

“I pay respect to Your Highness, Prince Mu.”

Mu Qing hastily held out his hand to support him.

Normally, everyone felt that he was still young so when they referred to him, they all called him Your Highness, Little Prince Mu. Mei Chang Su using one less word made him feel extremely happy, not to mention that this was someone his older sister liked. He didn’t dare to act proud in front of his sister. Smiling from ear to ear, “I have heard much about you, to meet you today really is very charismatic.”

Mei Chang Su smiled wryly, “Your Highness is too kind, someone full of illness like I, don’t dare to accept such praise.”

“Ah, Prince Jing has also arrived!” Princess Nihuang suddenly said.

Mei Chang Su turned his body around to look, he saw Prince Jing, Xiao Jingyan, striding over, their eyes made contact briefly before looking away.

“Because of Nihuang, Prince Jing’s precious time has been taken up.” Princess Nihuang smiled. Listening to the meaning behind her words, it seemed like Prince Jing was also here by her invitation.

Mei Chang Su looked at the two of them standing side by side. Male, tall and imposing with a distinct air of power like tiger, like dragon, and female with an exuberant air of heroic bearing like the flaming wings of a phoenix, her expression as if always concentrating and her heart never wavering.

Prince Jing wasn’t a man of many words, he only said a few things to be polite before becoming quiet and standing still.

“Who else are we waiting for?” Mei Chang Su asked.

“No one, look over there, they’ve arrived.” Princess Nihuang smiled leisurely. “These two act unanimously.”

Mei Chang Su didn’t need to turn around to know which two people she was talking about.

Of course it was only moments later that the Crown Prince and Prince Yu’s loud laughter could be heard. It was as if they were trying to see who could make as if they were the most magnanimous and graceful, while at the same time kindly greeting everyone standing at the entrance of the hall.

These two were of noble status, so everyone came forward to greet them with ceremony.

Since he was the one who suggested the idea of challengers for the tournament, the Emperor was very pleased with Prince Yu. Therefore, when he saw Mei Chang Su, he naturally smiled brightly like a blossom.

Although the Crown Prince wasn’t happy in his heart, but he also knew the reason so couldn’t really blame Su Zhe. He could only blame himself for not having any spies next to him, of course he had to pretend as if he didn’t have any sense of dissatisfaction.

Mei Chang Su not only had to talk with them idly, but also had to ensure that Princess Nihuang and Mu Qing weren’t being given the cold shoulder. It really was an extraordinary show of his ability to manage everything. Xiao Jingyan stood beside them, watching them coldly while his his eyes couldn’t help but express a sense of disgust.

They all gathered before entering the palace hall together.

Inside had long been set up with a feast made up of wine, fruit and various dishes.

As the Emperor had yet to arrive, according to custom, one was not allowed to take their seat, so everyone stood around chatting as they wished in groups of three and five.

Since neither were willing to let the other gain the upper hand, neither the Crown Prince or Prince Yu allowed the other the chance to stand alone with Mei Chang Su, so all three stood together.

Mu Qing had always admired Prince Jing’s outstanding military service, not to mention he felt that men should talk about battle topics so went to consult Xiao Jingyan about military tactics.

Princess Nihuang came over to this side for a moment, then went over there to say a few words, in an extremely relaxed manner.

About a quarter of an hour later, the light sound of gold chime stones could be heard resonating from outside the palace hall. An official from the Ministry of Rites shouted loudly, “His Imperial Majesty has arrived!”

The inside of the palace hall immediately became silent, everyone stood according to their position. Mei Chang Su retreated to stand in the corner, waited for the Emperor to take his place before following everyone to ceremonially greet him.

The Emperor of Daliang had passed his sixtieth year, he was greying at the temples and his face had signs of wrinkles, but his actions remained prestigious and powerful, without any signs of becoming senile or ill-health.

After ordering everyone to rise, the Emperor’s gaze naturally landed on Mei Chang Su standing furthest away.

As far as the His Majesty the Emperor, the King of Yesterday and Tomorrow [九五至尊] is concerned, then whether it is the Chief of the Jiangzuo Alliance or the world’s best sect, they are all topics not worthy of much attention. The reason that he was interested in Mei Chang Su was because he held the same misunderstanding as Mu Qing, he thought that he was the person that Princess Nihuang had selected.

At first glance, this person had a delicate appearance, elegant temperament, a bashful manner and a withdrawn attitude. It’s no wonder that the princess approved.

Looking the second time, his complexion was too pale, his stature under the fur coat was much too thin, unfortunately he probably wasn’t blessed with longevity. There was a feeling of inadequacy for someone that the princess should be able to rely on.

On a closer third look, his eyes were like tranquil waves, deep and clear, though silently looking down as if meditating yet his presence felt threatening to others.

The Emperor stroked his grey beard, silently nodded and called out, “Su Zhe!”

“Your humble servant is present.”

“Princess has recommended you as someone who is well educated, the Crown Prince and Prince Yu also praise you. Here we have three written treatises, you read over them and point out the one that is superior to us.”

“At your Imperial Majesty’s command, your humble servant obeys.”

Mei Chang Su accepted the three written treatises and glanced over them quickly before saying, “Reporting to Your Majesty, the ‘Theory of Central Governance’ [論中樞治] is the most superior.”

“Why do you say that?”

“This writing has a regal air about it, your citizen dares not comment on it.”

The Liang Emperor looked up to the sky and laughed while praising, “Sure enough, your eyesight is very good.The Princess’ Written Examination will be given to you. Since you have given effort to help the court, you may not have an official title but you will be known as an honourable guest. There is no need to refer to yourself as servant anymore.”

Mei Chang Su pondered a moment before saying, “At your Imperial Majesty’s command, your courtier obeys.” These words were stated in a cold tone, as if there was no attention paid to the grace bestowed by His Majesty, but was simply to said out of courtesy.

“Come, make a place for Su xiansheng beside the Princess.”

“Thanking Your Majesty.”

Mei CHang Su bowed before going to take his seat. The Princess immediately smiled at him causing everyone in the hall to reveal an expression of ‘so it is like that’.

At this time, the Commander General of the Imperial Guards, Meng Zhi, appeared outside the entrance of the hall. He was the Emperor’s closest courtier, and without needing to request an audience, could walk directly into the hall. He reported, “Reporting to Your Majesty, the envoys from Great Yu, Northern Yan and the ten finalists have entered the palace. They are now awaiting your imperial decree.”

Although Mei Chang Su already knew that today’s feast wasn’t just to meet him, what was more important was to look over the candidates for Prince Consort. It wasn’t until now that he could determine whether this information was correct, naturally he felt much relieved.

He was pondering this when the Emperor of Daliang decreed their audience.

Meng Zhi immediately obeyed and turned around, in an instant, he turned towards Mei Chang Su and lightly nodded so that no one else could see.

Knowing that he had resolved everything successfully, Mei Chang Su was less worried. On the outside, his expression was still blank, simply sitting still just as before.

After a while, the herald announced the arrival of Princess Jingning. The Emperor of Daliang revealed a smile, waited for the princess to enter before immediately asking, “Ning’er, yesterday you were determined to attend the feast, why then have you arrived so late today?”

Princess Jingning furrowed her eyebrows, her expression as if covered in dark clouds and seemingly depressed. After bowing in ceremony, she replied, “On the way here, I saw a cat with long white fur like snow so chased it. That is why I arrived a little late.”

“You always like cats. Are you unhappy because you didn’t catch it?”

Princess Jingning silently pondered for a long time before answering in a small voice, “No…I chased the cat, and unintentionally ended up in the servant prison. I saw the people there working laboriously, very miserably, so I feel a little unhappy…”

Hearing her mention the servant prison, Prince Jing’s heart shook. He glanced over at Mei Chang Su quickly but could only see his calm expression, as if he hadn’t heard those words.

The Liang Emperor’s expression became gloomy, and with reproach he responded, “You are a Princess, why did you go to a place like that? Even more, those in the servant prison are criminals, having to suffer labour is something they deserve. There’s no need to feel compassion for them.”

“Imperial father is correct in your teaching.” Princess Jingning bowed her head, saying, “But in there are minors, frail and pitiful. I thought that they are so young, what crime have they committed…”

“There is nothing more to say!” The Liang Emperor shouted, “You really have been spoilt, don’t you see what occasion this is, yet you dare to mention those criminals? Hurry and take your place, the envoys are about to enter the hall. You need to always remember your identity as a princess. Look at your Nihuang jie jie, see how she is naturally prudent she is…”

“Your Majesty has flattered me.” Princess Nihuang immediately laughed, saying, “Jingning is a pampered princess, if she were allowed on the bloody battlefield like Nihuang, Your Majesty would not have the heart.”

The Liang Emperor allowed a hint of love to overcome his expression, “How could I have the heart to make you toil in the wind and rain? This time, Qing’er has been titled, we only need to select a son-in-law and my mind will be at ease.”

“Your Majesty’s kindness and generosity is profound, not mentioning Nihuang’s inner emotions, even my father in the underworld will be able to feel your imperial kindness.” Princess Nihuang had governed Yunnan for many years, naturally, not only relying on her faultless outstanding achievements, even her normal words of thanks were extremely sincere and pleasant to listen to.

The Liang Emperor smiled gently.

At this time, the envoys from Great Yu and Northern Yan had managed to already enter the hall and bow in greeting, before taking their places.

Following them were the ten finalists from teh martial arts round, all of them wore differing styles of clothing. A few seemed uneasy and confused. Of course this was because it was only early that morning that they were called in for an audience with the Emperor. They simply weren’t prepared for anything.

Compared to the others, Xiao Jingrui and Yan Yujin had entered the palace numerous times before so were naturally more relaxed. As soon as they walked in, they looked around taking in all the sights. After they found Mei Chang Su, although they didn’t dare to greet him, but they at least they both smiled at him.

After waiting for everyone to be seated, the Liang Emperor ordered the palace maids to pour the wine for each table. Initially every table was poured three cups, “This event has gathered heroes, and experts. That you were all able to enter the final round is evidence that you are all young heroes. Today, I bestow a feast in anticipation. It has been said that heroes are able to hold their wine, everyone may once more drink another cup.

The ten finalists stood up and raised a toast, draining their cups.

The Liang Emperor then turned to the envoys of the two countries. “Da Yu and Northern Yan is really worthy of being the places giving birth to young heroes from afar. All with impressive fighting achievements, it’s just that I really don’t know, might you introduce them a little?”

The two envoys hurriedly stood up and bowed, “Yes!” But, when they stood up and were about to speak, they realised something. Both countries had people through to the final round, but the Emperor of Daliang had only told them to ‘introduce a little’ and not who would introduce first, or after.

In the end it wasn’t that big of a deal, but in a grand banquet like this where everyone needed to be aware of each other, not to mention Da Yu and Northern Yan weren’t neighbouring nations that were mutually peaceful. Often times they would deride each other, not wanting to show weakness.

Standing stunned, the two envoys felt that to continue standing stiffly wasn’t the answer, all they could do was turn their eyes and defer to their host. The result was that they could only see an unkind smile on the Emperor’s face, clearly showing that he wanted to see how they would resolve this issue of order.

“Our Da Yu this time has a total of two warriors through…” The envoy from Da Yu immediately said. The implication was that we have two, while you only have one, so we will speak first.

“It’s a pity that these ten people don’t have the opportunity to go against each other. Our warrior, Baili Qi, has really wanted to exchange a few moves.” The envoy from Northern Yan wasn’t happy to be outdone, his meaning was that, your two warriors are no match to one of ours, based on what right do you have to speak first?

“In fact, my country still has many warriors with the ability to participate, but we thought that this was to find a suitor for the princess, after all, he must be talented and good-looking, therefore there was a preliminary round to choose candidates.” The envoy from Da Yu state with contempt. Intentionally mocking Baili Qi’s appearance as being ugly, someone that the princess definitely wouldn’t like.

“There’s an old saying “to judge by appearances, is no better than having lost”, the princess is such an outstanding person, how could she place such importance on gold and jade outer appearances, and rotten insides…” Northern Yan’s envoy was also very sharp-tongued, immediately rebuked.

At this time, the Emperor of Daliang laughed, and advised, “Today, the three countries befriending each other is a happy event, why be a stickler for details? Both of you, please be seated, the issue of introductions can be left to Meng Zhi.”

Meng Zhi immediately stepped forward after hearing this, “This subject obeys.” He immediately walked to stand beside the competitor from Da Yu and politely pointed, “This warrior from Da Yu is You Guang Zhi, twenty eight years old, father is a second rank official, and he was once engaged to a female from the Hu family. Three months ago, the engagement was broken.”

After that, he went beside the Northern Yan table, saying, “This warrior is Bali Qi, thirty years old, a general belonging to the fourth prince of Northern Yan. Aside from this time coming to Daliang, he has never left the fourth prince’s side, never married.”

Then he walked to the table of Da Yu, “This warrior from Da Yu is Zheng Cheng, twenty seven years old and is the younger brother of the second prince consort of Da Yu. Once married to a female from the Shi family. Six months ago they divorced due to her sin of malicious talk.”

The Emperor of Daliang listened quietly, and made a sound of acknowledgement.

The envoy from Da Yu couldn’t believe that Daliang could investigate the candidates so clearly, he felt a little empty, quickly explaining, “Your Majesty, these two are both talents of our country, behaviour and appearance are both extremely upright, their previous marriage promises have ended completely, we don’t dare to allow the princess to feel wronged.”

The envoy from Northern Yan laughed coldly, “Ended at the right time!”

“Regardless, its better than your country bringing a slave. Do you realise this is to find a suitor for the princess?” The envoy from Da Yu remarked angrily.

“The princess wants to choose someone, not their ancestry. With the identity of a princess, there’s no need to care about ancestry?”

“Since ancient times, there has always been a difference in classes, how can it be neglected?”

“Before leaving, our country’s warrior, Baili Qi, along with fourth prince, became brothers. The issue of class is fortune-dependent.”

“You…” The envoy from Da Yu was wanting to argue further when the person beside him secretly tugged on his sleeve, whispering, “The princess choosing a husband already has set rules, there’s no use in arguing.”

The envoy from Da Yu wasn’t foolish, hearing this reminder, he immediately understood. Not to mention the person who spoke was his deputy, a master of great reputation on the Lang Ya list, Jin Diao Chai Ming. How could he not listen, he immediately grunted before sitting down.

The Emperor of Daliang watched their dispute cooly without saying a word. When both sides’ fire had momentarily died down, he said, “Everyone is a talent, there’s no need to argue. It’s a pity that I’m busy with matters of the court and was not able to watch all the matches. I still don’t know much about these warriors.”

“Erchen has a suggestion.” Prince Yu was the most clever, moreover, he had sensitive information. He had foreknowledge of his Imperial father’s idea so took the opportunity to say, “Wouldn’t it be better to use today’s banquet to allow these ten warriors to compare notes. It could be seen as something for everyone to remember.”

The Emperor of Daliang pondered for a moment, stroked his beard and said, “What do you all think?”

“Erchen believes that this suggestion from Prince Yu is ill-considered.” The Crown Prince hurriedly stated. “Imperial father has favoured us by coming here, how can the main hall have traces of knife and sword to avoid alarm…” Saying this, suddenly his eyes glanced at Mei Chang Su raising his cup and shaking his head slightly, he immediately changed his tone, “This is just erchen worrying for Imperial father…Only on second thought, recalling that year Imperial father put order to internal disorder like that and there is also Commander General Meng by your side, then it can be assumed nothing will happen. So erchen suggests, everyone can compare notes, but only to a point. Seeing blood is inauspicious.”

He was talking yet changed his meaning halfway, showing his own intelligence. As he didn’t see Mei Chang Su’s signal, Prince Yu didn’t know why the Crown Prince suddenly understood the situation, and felt disheartened and could only coldly grunt.

“The suggestions of both sons are very like my own ideas.” The Emperor of Daliang smiled and said. “Then everyone can challenge at will, there’s no need to make any more rules.”

As the Emperor finished speaking, seeing that he really wanted to see everyone test their skills, the Crown Prince silently counted his blessings, and couldn’t help but glance thankfully at Mei Chang Su. But Mei Chang Su had his head bowed listening to Princess Nihuang in a whispered conversation so totally didn’t see it.

Although it was said that it would be free challenges but everyone had overcome many untold hardships to qualify, and in front of the princess, no one wanted to hastily stand out, fearing to throw away their accomplishments and appear disgraceful. So in a short amount of time, they simply regarded and weighed each other up, causing the palace hall to suddenly be overcome by awkward silence.

“Then I will go first.” The person stood up while shaking his clothes with a long laugh, of course it was Yan Yujin, one who never worried about his thoughts or words. He walked to the centre of the hall and bowed to the Emperor of Daliang, then leisurely turned around and put his chin in the air. “I am Yan Yujin, I challenge the eldest son of Xiao.”

<< Chapter 05    Chapter 07 >>

Sorry this chapter took so long…it had quite a few terms and phrases that I couldn’t seem to translate. Took a lot but I managed after consulting various online articles ^.^

Hopefully the next chapter won’t take as long, no promises though!!

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.