Chapter 12 (Modified Version)
“Qilin?” Mei Changsu laughed. “Take a look at me, Princess. Do you think that I have anything to do with the odd-looking creature?”
“You still have the heart to laugh?” Princess Nihuang looked at him with admiration. “Langya Hall has never been wrong with their comments. Of course one would rather believe it to be true than otherwise. This would be a simple matter if it were merely a Prince amassing talent under his command. If you were to refuse, he would not pursue further. However, your predicament turned messy with the comment of ‘qilin prodigy’. Before obtaining you, both Princes will persist in their efforts. However, once one of them succeeds, then the side that failed will inevitably attempt to destroy you with all their powers. Do you feel nothing else for this situation?”
“Of course I do,” responded Mei Changsu seriously. “I feel that the Langya Hall Master must have a grudge against me.”
Princess Nihuang cracked a smile. She half turned and leaned against the railings. Her eyes were shimmering with light. “After meeting with you, I actually believe that perhaps the Langya Hall Master is right once again…”
“Please, Princess.” Mei Changsu bowed hastily, “Your Highness should not have any grudges against me. I am already on a bed of coal, please do not light the fire.”
“This fire has been burning for quite awhile now. I recommend you to pick a side quickly.”
“And therefore be killed quickly by the other?”
“At least this way, one person will protect you with all his might. Isn’t that better than having both of them giving up and trying to kill you together?” Princess Nihuang’s tone suddenly turned cold, “Who will you pick? The Crown Prince or Prince Yu?”
A look of extreme pride appeared on Mei Changsu’s face. It disappeared in an instance, and he was once again that idle and sickly young man. “A talent must select his lord to perform deeds. Didn’t you come to Jinling to gain achievement?” ask Princess Nihuang slowly.
“How can I think about achievements with this sickly body? I only wanted to rest for a little while.”
“You came to the royal capital to rest?” Princess Nihuang’s eyes looked into the distance. She spoke mockingly, “Mr. Mei of East River is unusual indeed. You really know how to select a place.”
Mei Changsu ignored her ridicule and responded mildly, “Your Highness appears to be unexpectedly concerned about the politics of Court.”
Princess Nihuang whipped her head back. Her clear eyes glared fiercely at Mei Changsu. Her strong presence was like a raging flame under which an average person would immediately cower.
Yet Mei Changsu returned her gaze calmly, a smile lingering on his lips.
After awhile, Princess Nihuang finally withdrew the fury she purposefully emitted. She grunted and answered coldly, “The Mu family has been guarding Yunnan for generations. One can say that it and the Royal Court exist in mutual dependence. The future direction of Court has great impacts on our principality. Why shouldn’t I be concerned?”
“In my opinion,” Mei Changsu bowed, “The changing of the throne had no impact on Yunnan in the past. Regardless of who ascends the throne in the future, the Mu family who guards the southern border would not be touched easily. Why would Your Highness be so concerned with the battle for the throne?”
Princess Nihuang did not answer this question. Instead, she roared with laughter. Although she was a woman, her bright and spirited demeanor was filled with the pride and dignity of a prince, much worthy of admiration. One could imagine how stunning she would be on the battlefield as she heads an attack like a storm of fire. If the young Prince who recently inherited the title possesses half the grace and dignity of his sister, then it would be more than enough to ensure Yunnan to be the most secure principality of the world.
Mei Changsu moved his brows, and understood this female general of the southern border.
True, the Mu family of Yunnan was loyal to the Court, but the Court also needs to be able to appease them. Princess Nihuang was a hero amongst women. How could she bow her head to just any master? How could she not come to see the character of the future Emperor and how he obtains the throne?
Princess Nihuang turned after restoring her composure. “Mr. Su,” she said, “Would you like to do me a favour?”
Mei Changsu replied hurriedly, “If Your Highness has any instructions, I will endeavour to complete them.”
“The Emperor has given an edict that only the top ten candidates from the martial arts tournament will be qualified to take part in the literary tournament. I would like to ask you to be the examiner in the literary tournament and help me rank the people asking for my hand.”
Mei Changsu was very surprised by this request, and his first reaction was to tactfully decline. “The literary tournament is decided by the Emperor. How could I interject?”
“Mr. Su’s talent is so widely known, His Majesty will not oppose it.” Princess Nihuang gazed into the distance, and there was a hint of softness. “Everyone encourages me to marry, saying that I must do so eventually as a woman. It wouldn’t do any harm to select carefully, would it?”
Mei Changsu pondered for a moment and asked, “Is the ranking in the literary tournament used to determine the order in which they compete with Your Highness?”
“Yes. The victor from the literary tournament will have the first opportunity to compete with me. If he wins, then the following nine will not have a chance.”
“What if he loses?”
“Then the next person will step up. If none of the ten can win against me, then I won’t be married off this time.” Princess Nihuang sneered, as if she had long seen the ending she spoke of. “Will you agree?”
Mei Changsu knew that it would be useless to try to be low-key in such conditions. He wasn’t afraid to take the limelight. He nodded slowly and shifted his gaze upon the stage, where flashes of blades never stopped. He sighed, “It would be great if there was a fated one for Your Highness amongst these men…”
Princess Nihuang stepped closer and stood shoulder to shoulder with him. Her eyes remained upon the battles below. As if speaking to herself, she asked quietly, “Why didn’t you join?”
“Me?” Mei Changsu chuckled. “With a body like mine, I’m afraid I would be sent flying in the first round. By that time, I wouldn’t be able to be a qilin. It would be pretty fortunate if I don’t turn into a pancake…”
Princess Nihuang burst with laughter at his descriptions. “Mr. Su is really humourous. I wonder, what is your ailment?”
“It is just a chronic illness, currently not life-threatening,” answered Mei Changsu smoothly. He continued to watch the crowd below. Suddenly, something made his lashes quiver slightly and his gaze wavered. His movements were minute and disappeared without a trace, but a person like Princess Nihuang noticed immediately. She followed his eyes and searched for awhile, but couldn’t determine what he saw.
“The Phoenix Building is ultimately not a place for me to stay long. If Your Highness has no further instructions, it would be best for me to return to the tents below,” said Mei Changsu warmly. “Besides, if the qilin does not return, wouldn’t the Crown Prince and Prince Yu become restless in their wait?”
“That is true. It’s better for you to see them soon,” nodded Princess Nihuang. She smiled, “Then I will not keep you further. Please do as you wish.”
Mei Changsu bowed in departure, and the female general who usually does not pay much mind to nobility actually bowed in return. The two went separate ways. One returned to the Warm Hall, and the other went directly down the stairs. Feiliu naturally followed.
A long corridor connected the side exit of the Phoenix Building and the entrance of the tented area. Guards stood attentive outside the walls, and the passage was extraordinarily quiet. Mei Changsu walked slowly with his head lowered in thought. He only raised his head when Feiliu gasped “Ah!” behind him, and saw the strong build walking towards him.
As the Commander of the Royal Guards, Meng Zhi was in charge of the safety of the Royal Palace. His responsibilities were hefty with the Emperor present, and he needed to patrol the area with extra caution. However, as the commander, he of course knew that Mei Changsu entered the Phoenix Building under summons from the Grand Empress Dowager. So, he did not interrogate Mei Changsu as they met, instead greeted him with a smile.
Mei Changsu gave a soft smile as well, and nodded in greeting. The two man each had their business to attend to. It was as if the two met by coincidence. Neither party appeared to have the intention to stop and make small talk.
Yet, in the brief moment when their two shoulders brushed by each other, Mei Changsu’s lips parted. He emitted a very quiet but very stern phrase:
“Listen, tell those two to go back!”