Chapter 15: Tingsheng
Yan Yujin had long since gotten tired of the snide attacks within the tent and had run out alone to watch the tournament. He only returned after seeing the two Princes leave, and saw Mei Changsu coughing nonstop on the chair, with Xiao Jingrui patting his back gently. Yan Yujin asked immediately, “What’s wrong, Su? Are you sick again?”
“It’s nothing much…” Mei Changsu accepted the tea Xiao Jingrui handed him and took a drink. He wiped the corner of his eyes which had teared up from coughing. “The Crown Prince and Prince Yu both had some fragrance… I’m not used to it…”
“Oh, I know, that’s ambergris from the East Sea. It was gifted to them by the Emperor, and only to those two. The fragrance is strong indeed, it’s no wonder that Su is not used to it. But, I’ve heard that it’s the best in keeping one spirited. It’s even said to increase the masculine energy.”
“Is that so…” answered Mei Changsu off-handedly. He glanced at Xie Bi, who was standing at the side and didn’t appear to have heard their conversation.
His dislike for ambergris should reach Prince Yu through Xie Bi by tonight, so Prince Yu will not be wearing the fragrance the next time he meets Mei Changsu. Xiao Jingrui and Yan Yujin were definitely not the Crown Prince’s men, so there shouldn’t be anyone to give this information to him. Yet, if the Crown Prince also abandons the fragrance during their next meeting, then it would mean that the Crown Prince has spies in Prince Yu’s manor.
If the Crown Prince does not receive the news and continues to wear ambergris before him, then the abilities and control of Prince Yu need to be re-evaluated with a big increase in his favour…
It was finally quiet after the exit of the two Princes. No more outstanding visitors arrived, and the group was able to watch a few rounds of the competition peacefully. There were no exceptional fighters, but the matches were still rather entertaining.
There was a two-hour break at noon. Curtains shimmered atop the Phoenix Building, and one couldn’t tell if the Emperor was still present. He probably only arrived to show his presence. It was unlikely that he would watch the competition in its entirety for days on end. Yan Yujin arranged for food and drinks at some point. He began to excitedly discuss the events of the morning while waiting for the afternoon competition to begin. Yan Yujin was probably the only one among them all to put all his heart and mind into watching the competition.
At a little bit past noon, Xie Bi disappeared with some excuse. Xiao Jingrui saw the sluggish Mei Changsu and suggested to return home early. Yan Yujin was unable to retain them and could only bid them farewell. His lonely figured saw his friends off by the tent entrance.
As soon as he was in the carriage, Mei Changsu leaned on the pillows and closed his eyes for a snooze. Xiao Jingrui did not disturb him. He sat quietly by Mei Changsu’s side, looking as if he had something on his mind. The carriage shook slowly, and their shoulders brushed every so often. The mood was very tranquil, but also a little stagnant.
After some time had passed, Mei Changsu asked, “When we were just coming out… Jingrui, did you see?”
Xiao Jingrui’s heart throbbed. His fingers unconsciously pulled on the curtain’s tassels. After a long pause, he finally replied with a “Yeah”.
“After seeing that…what do you feel?” Mei Changsu opened his eyes and slowly rested his gaze upon his companion. The latter was turning his gaze as well. His bright eyes showed a hint of something bitter, yet sweet. They looked as if some uncertainty lingered one moment, but then they appeared to be very clear in the next.
“My first thought was…her hairstyle changed. The hair she wore down before… They’re all coiled up now. It looks nice. Nicer than before…” Xiao Jingrui squinted his eyes slightly, as if recalling. He continued, “And then I saw the person beside her. They were holding hands… Honestly speaking, I still felt a tiny bit upset at first, but then I felt completely at peace. It was a beautiful scene—she tilting her head to speak and he listening quietly. I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. Especially the way he looked at her with those eyes… It makes me feel that it was worth all the waiting Ms. Yun did for him. I don’t think I would be able to have such an expression in my eyes, even when my love for her was at its peak… Su, I don’t know why, I just know that I wouldn’t be able to as I am right now. I feel like I’m still lacking somewhere, but I can’t figure it out…”
“Because the people who have walked on the ridge between life and death are those returning from another world. The people who have only lived in one world can never be like them…” Mei Changsu looked at Xiao Jingrui deeply. His eyes were filled with kindness while he spoke, “But why be like them? Isn’t it better to live happily in the simple world?”
Xiao Jingrui raised his eyebrows. “Su, you think that…Ms. Yun’s husband had experienced…”
“The walk near death make love shine brighter.” Mei Changsu sighed. “Regardless of what they’ve experienced, it is reassuring for such infatuation to have a good ending.”
“That’s true,” nodded Xiao Jingrui solemnly. “Such a kind and benevolent person like Ms. Yun deserves a happy ending of a loving husband and blissful life.”
Mei Changsu turned his face slightly and hid the light flickering in the depth of his eyes. He spoke to himself in the quietest voice, “Such a pure and kind person like you should deserve a happy ending as well…”
“What did you say, Su?” Xiao Jingrui leaned in to listen but still couldn’t hear him clearly.
“I said… Such a good person like you will definitely meet the right lady in the future…”
“The future…” Xiao Jingrui sighed. He was lost in thought for awhile. Then, he lifted a curtain and looked out.
He simply wanted to look around, but as soon as he stuck his head out, he saw a crowd of people around the corner. A horse carriage was stopped in the middle, where there was loud cursing.
“Jingrui, stop the carriage and see what’s going on.” Mei Changsu sat up to look outside as well. “I heard the voice of a child.”
“Okay,” answered Xiao Jingrui. He ordered the carriage to stop, then jumped down and walked closer to the scene. The group of people were wearing the same servant uniforms. A lantern with the surname “He” hung from the carriage. The people on the street did not dare to get close and watched the scene from a great distance.
Xiao Jingrui frowned, and roughly figured out the identity of the person flaunting his power in the streets. He squeezed into the centre. Sure enough, he saw He Wenxin, the son of the Minister of Personnel He Jingzhong. He Wenxin was kicking a small, thin boy. He yelled while kicking, “You little bastard, what were you scampering about for? You startled my horse and almost made me fall from it…” He snatched the horse whip from a servant nearby. He was just about to put his strength into it when his hand was caught by someone.
“Who the fuck dares to—” He Wenxin began to swear angrily, then saw Xiao Jingrui’s face. He quickly swallowed back the rest of his words. Actually, the real nobles within the capital are generally well disciplined. Very few would act so cruelly in the streets like this. Even though there were some people who hold true disdain for commoners, they would refrain from beating and swearing in person out of concern for their status. He Wenxin’s father became a court official through Royal Examinations, and was transferred all around the empire after his appointment. He Wenxin was left under the care of his grandmother, who spoiled him and neglected in his discipline. He was notorious for his atrocity from just the few years he’s been in the capital. He did possess some cleverness and usually never messed with those he cannot afford to mess with. Thanks to that, he has lasted until now without incidences. He did not dare to speak more when he saw that it was Xiao Jingrui interjecting. “Never mind, I don’t want to bother with this,” he said with some embarrassment, and disappeared rapidly with his servants.
Even though Xiao Jingrui was angry, it was not as if he could drag He Wenxin back and give him a beating. So, he resigned with a sigh and crouched down to look at the child. The boy was tiny and thin, appearing to be no older than ten. On his face were a few slightly swollen red handprints. When the boy saw the man beating him leave, he straightened his curled up body a bit and quickly crawled around to pick up some scattered books. He stacked them into a large pile and wrapped them with an old cloth. However, there were many books and little cloth, and he couldn’t make a knot.
“What’s your name?” asked Xiao Jingrui as he helped to gather a few books. He touched the boy’s shoulder, “You probably received quite a few kicks. Are you hurt?”
The boy cowered away from his hand. He lowered his head and remained silent.
“Jingrui,” called Mei Changsu from the carriage, “Bring the child here and let me have a look.”
“Okay.” Xiao Jingrui reached out to grab the boy’s arm. He spoke warmly, “How would you be able to carry this many books? I’ll find someone to help you. Come, let’s go there first.”
“I can carry them…” mumbled the boy quietly. In the end, he did not dare to struggle much. Xiao Jingrui half-dragged, half-carried the boy to the carriage and stuffed him inside.
Mei Changsu’s pressed on the boy’s shoulder with his warm and soft hands. He moved down steadily, checking his whole body gently and attentively. When his palm pressed on the lower ribs, the boy cried out in pain and skirted back.
“He is probably hurt here.” Xiao Jingrui stopped the boy from behind and removed his shirt gently. He sucked in his breath. Besides a new purple bruise at his ribs, old wounds appeared all over his thin body. At a rough glance, there appeared to be wounds from clubs, whips, and even branding irons. The marks were fading, but one could imagine what type of torment the child went through.
“Which family are you from?” asked Xiao Jingrui loudly, unable to contain his shock. On a second thought, he asked again, “Are you a servant of some manor? Who’s the one constantly beating you like this…”
“No…” denied the child immediately. “I haven’t been beaten for many years. This is from before…”
“Even if it’s from before. Tell me, who beat you?”
“Jingrui.” Mei Changsu stopped him quietly, “Don’t question him further. This child’s ribs must be fractured if not broken. Let’s bring him back to the manor first and have a doctor take a look at him. Also, bring those books in. Look, this child is really concerned about his books…”
He was not wrong. The boy looked clearly relieved once he saw all the books brought in. He begged quietly, “I’m fine, please let me down. I can go back by myself…”
“Where are you going back to?” Xiao Jingrui took this opportunity and inquired further.
The boy seemed very sharp. He immediately lowered his head.
“Are you reading all of these books?” asked Mei Changsu warmly, flipping through the pile of books. Perhaps his air of gentle elegance was reassuring. The boy was a little calmer after he raised his head and glanced at Mei Changsu. He answered meekly, “Yes, some… Some others…I can’t understand.”
“How old are you?
“What’s your name?
The boy paused for a long time, so long that it seemed like he wouldn’t answer. Finally, he said woodenly, “Tingsheng.”
“What is your surname?”
“…I don’t have a surname. I am just called Tingsheng…”
Mei Changsu re-examined this child closely. His face was swollen red and his features have yet to mature, but one can still see that he had rather handsome eyes. His words and actions have been very submissive since the beginning, without any apparent struggle against unjust treatment. Yet strangely enough, one could not feel a hint of servitude from him. It was as if he radiated tenacity from his bones, and nobody can make him subservient regardless of how he is bullied.
“Tingsheng, if we let you down now, would someone find a doctor for you when you go back?”
Tingsheng pressed his lips together. Clearly, there was no certain answer, and he did not wish to lie.
“Then we must take you back to our place and have a doctor take a look at you. After he says that you’re okay, we’ll send you back. Does that sound good?”
Tingsheng hung his head and kept silent, his brows squeezed together.
“Will our goodwill bring you difficulties?”
Tingsheng flinched and bit his lips together tightly.
“Did you come out by yourself?”
“No… There’s another person…”
“Where is he?”
“He ran off…”
“If you go home late, will someone beat you?”
A chill flashed in Tingsheng’s eyes. He shook his head, “Not anymore… I just won’t get food…”
Xiao Jingrui felt his blood surge. He said angrily, “You don’t get food? Which family do you belong to? Why would you go back after being treated like this? Tell me, I can help you. You can come to my family too. At least we’ll feed you!”
Tingsheng raised his eyes. In his gaze was a sense of calm and maturity beyond his years. “You’re taking pity on me and want to take me in, right?”
Xiao Jingrui froze. He tried to explain awkwardly, “No… What I meant was…”
“I don’t have the right to be taken in. I must go back to that place… If I could be taken in, I would’ve been ages ago…”
“Do you have a contract?” guessed Xiao Jingrui. “Who is the owner? Tell me, I can go negotiate.”
Tingsheng lowered his eyes with indifference. “No, you can’t.”
“Do you know who he is?” asked Mei Changsu. He looked into the child’s eyes. “His father is a Marquess and his mother is a Princess. He is a person of high status. Regardless of who you were sold to in Jinling, your old master will let him have his way as long as he goes forward to negotiate. Do you understand?”
Tingsheng’s head remained lowered. He insisted, “No, you can’t.”
Mei Changsu and Xiao Jingrui looked at each other. They were just about to speak again when the driver called out, “Young master, we’ve reached the manor.”