Chapter 16: Prince Jing
“Here, let’s head in first.” Xiao Jingrui jumped down from the carriage and lifted the child down as well. He instructed the servant who came up to greet them, “Go summon a doctor.”
Mei Changsu followed them, stooping out from the carriage. He carried the heavy bag of books, wondering how the little child managed to lift it.
“I’ll hold it,” said Xiao Jingrui, walking over. However, an attentive servant had already seized the bag. He reached out his arm instead and supported Mei Changsu as he jumped down from the carriage.
Tingsheng took a quick glimpse at the “Manor of the Marquess of Ning” sign above the entrance, and his face clouded for a second. Even though he quickly lowered his head again, this slight change in demeanor did not escape Mei Changsu’s eyes.
They brought the child to the Snow Cottage. A doctor soon arrived to treat him, and concluded that his ribs were dislocated. He must rest, eat nutritious food, and must refrain from any more physical labour. If not, then this will inevitably cause other issues for his body in the future.
One could tell that Tingsheng lived in very harsh conditions just by looking at him. If they let him return now, then he probably will not be able to fulfill any one of the doctor’s orders. Yet, regardless of how Xiao Jingrui interrogated him, Tingsheng refused to spill out any details on where he lived.
Compared to him, Mei Changsu was much more patient. He sent for someone to bring exquisite food and drinks to feed Tingsheng, then told him to sleep and rest. When he saw that Tingsheng was much too uneasy to fall asleep, he began to flip through a book to examine the extent of the boy’s knowledge.
“You don’t have a teacher, do you?”
“Who taught you to read?”
Mei Changsu pondered for a moment. Although this child had a desire to learn, his education was clearly shallow and chaotic. The books he bought were haphazard as well, varying in their difficulty. They did not seem to be a list given to him by a scholar, but rather more like what he chose himself based on his own presumptions. Mei Changsu wondered where he got the money to buy books.
“Tingsheng, education doesn’t work like that.” Mei Changsu organized his pile of books patiently. He went to retrieve many more volumes from his room and marked them in order. “You need to read these books first. These are the fundamentals. They are the simplest in content and style, and have clear moral values. Learning is just like building a house—the foundation needs to be solid so that the house above will not be crooked. If you just read at random without understanding their true meaning, you will only mess up your temperament. And these books, they are good books, but you are too young. I doubt you can even recognize all these words, so you wouldn’t understand their contents without someone to explain them to you. Leave these books for now. If you have a chance in the future, then feel free to come and ask me.”
Tingsheng’s eyes lit up, but immediately dimmed again. He intuitively knew that this older brother before him was a learned scholar. However, it was absolutely impossible to frequent this Marquess manor and ask him questions.
“Thank you.” Tingsheng stood up and bowed deeply to the two. “Can I leave now?”
“Geez, you…” Xiao Jingrui looked at him, his head beginning to throb. “You already had a huge pile of books, and now Mr. Su gave you so many more. How can you carry them all?”
Tingsheng looked at the small mountain of books and really did not wish to abandon any. So, he gritted his teeth and said bravely, “I can carry them.”
“Don’t be rash now.” Xiao Jingrui caught him quickly. “You’re hurt. You can’t use brute strength like that. Why don’t I ask someone to send you back?”
Tingsheng shook his head with determination.
Xiao Jingrui was powerless with this child. He looked helplessly towards Mei Changsu.
Mei Changsu pondered for a moment. He was just about to speak when a clear shout sounded from outside the Snow Cottage. It was Feiliu’s voice, followed immediately by someone calling, “Little master, you can’t hit him… He is…”
“Breaking in. Hit!” answered Feiliu coldly. The sound of cloths snapping in the air grew louder.
“Who are you? How dare you obstruct my…” shouted another person angrily, and the voice cut off. He was probably unable to speak further due to Feiliu’s attacks.
“Go out, then no hit!” Feiliu likely received instructions from Mei Changsu and was not lethal in his attacks. However, his voice was like ice, leaving no room for discussion.
Xiao Jingrui was unable to identify the voice of the man being obstructed, but he still ran out immediately. Moments later, his voice sounded as well, “Feiliu, stop fighting. This is a guest. He can come in.”
“Didn’t say okay! Out!” insisted Feiliu.
Mei Changsu frowned. Besides the few people Feiliu already knew, most guests would be announced by servants. If he wished to see them, then he would first instruct Feiliu to allow them in. This had allowed them to be free from conflicts thus far. This guest had clearly charged in by relying on some kind of status, and not only were the servants afraid to block his way, they did not even have a chance to announce him first. Thus, he ended up provoking Feiliu and was stopped by him.
Normally, Mei Changsu would never see such a rude guest.
He was just about to raise his voice and decline this guest when his gaze fell upon Tingsheng.
The child’s face was as white as a sheet. He stared straight forward, mouth agape, and was listening attentively to the noise outside. He wrung his hands together, almost changing their shape.
Mei Changsu suddenly changed his mind. He called out, “Feiliu, let him in!”
The sound of combat immediately stopped, and Xiao Jingrui’s voice sounded again. His tone was extremely polite, saying, “I hope you are unhurt? What could have made you charge in like this? Is there an urgent matter? My father is not home right now. Why don’t I accompany you to the main hall and wait…”
“I’m not looking for the Marquess,” said the man as he charged into the Snow Cottage. His path led him before Mei Changsu, whose calm gaze had a hint of sharpness. The man stopped involuntarily. He swept the room with his eyes, and finally calmed down when he saw Tingsheng standing there safe and sound. He asked, “Ting, are you all right?”
“Yes,” answered Tingsheng, his voice low and respectful.
“Do you know this child?” asked Xiao Jingrui, who followed the man in.
“Jingrui.” The man turned and spoke solemnly, “I heard that this child accidentally bumped into the carriage of a nobleman, and perhaps he startled your important guest. It’s no wonder that you’re upset. However, he is just a child. Please do me a favour. Can you allow him to apologize to your guest and let him go?”
Xiao Jingrui looked at him, his mind whirling. He stood confused until Mei Changsu let out a laugh, then he followed suit. “I think Your Highness has some misunderstandings. Tingsheng did not bump into my carriage. We met him passing by and decided to bring him home with us to treat his wounds. If you don’t believe me, you can ask Tingsheng.”
The man stood dazed. He turned to glance at Tingsheng’s expression, thought about Xiao Jingrui’s usual conduct, and knew that he spoke the truth. He immediately looked embarrassed.
“I did not know that it was Prince Jing arriving.” Mei Changsu stood up slowly and bowed. “Please forgive Feiliu’s offense just now.”
Xiao Jingrui hurried forward and introduced, “Prince Jing, this is Mr. Su Zhe.”
The Emperor’s seventh son Xiao Jingyan was thirty-one years old, a tall and slender young man. His features were not too different from his brothers, but due to leading the army year-round, he had an extra dash of fortitude in addition to the imperious air of royalty. The skin on his face and hands were also not as delicately preserved as the other Princes. He did not show any unusual expression upon hearing the name of Su Zhe, and returned a bow politely, likely only due to Xiao Jingrui’s ceremonial introduction.
On the other hand, Mei Changsu examined Prince Jing carefully behind his usual expression of calmness.
Xiao Jingrui asked as soon as the guest was seated, “Does Tingsheng belong to Your Highness?”
“…Erm… No…” Prince Jing had a troubled expression, as if he did not know how to answer. “Tingsheng currently…lives in the Secluded Courtyard…”
“The Secluded Courtyard?” Xiao Jingrui did not think of that place. He blurted out, “Isn’t that the place of punishment for the Palace’s servants? He’s so young, what crime could he have committed to be confined there?”
Tingsheng’s lips were pressed into a line, stiff as steel. He did not have any colour on his face.
“He was confined with his mother, and was born there.” Prince Jing knew that even if he did not speak, Xiao Jingrui would be able to investigate easily. So, he spoke quickly and frankly. “If you don’t need anything else, then please let him go back soon. According to regulations, the people in the Secluded Courtyard are not allowed to spend the night outside. His mother is probably very worried right now…”
“You know his mother?” Xiao Jingrui knew that he should not inquire further, but was not able to win against his curiosity. Prince Jing’s official consort had passed away many years ago. Currently, he only has two concubines who were appointed to him, and no others. Compared to other Princes with teeming harems, he was certainly eccentric. Perhaps it was because he fell in love with a convicted Palace maid. Thinking further along those lines, perhaps that child was…
At this point, Xiao Jingrui felt that his imagination was in danger of turning into that of Yan Yujin. He forcefully cut off his train of thought and smiled with some embarrassment.
Prince Jing was his elder by a few years and thus had more life experience. He was also pretty smart, and so he understood from a glance where Xiao Jingrui’s thoughts ran off to. However, he did not intend on clarifying. He learned about Tingsheng’s existence only a few years ago. At the time, the child was tormented beyond belief. For the past few years, he had exercised some of his powers to relieve Tingsheng from beatings, but at the end of the day, he could not protect him perfectly. Prince Jing would inevitably be worried whenever he left the capital to inspect the borders. He returned to the capital just a few days ago and was busy completing some tasks from the Department of Military Affairs. He finally had some free time to check on Tingsheng in the Secluded Courtyard, but heard his friend say that he got into trouble in the streets. Prince Jing quickly looked into the situation and rushed over to save him. Thankfully, nothing major happened.
“It was impertinent of me to trespass into the Marquess’s manor. I will most certainly return with apologies on another day.” Prince Ying did not say much more. He stood up and gave Tingsheng a look. “It is getting late. I will take my leave—”
Before he finished, Mei Changsu suddenly began to cough. At first, it seemed like he was forcefully suppressing it. Then, he began to cough more and more violently, as if he’s about to tear his organs apart. Veins popped all over his forehead, which was covered in large drops of sweat. Xiao Jingrui had never seen him cough like that in all their time together, and was very anxious. He hurried over to pat Mei Changsu’s back, but found it useless. He went to wipe his sweat with a handkerchief, but found his forehead to be burning hot while his face was icy cold. He became more agitated and shouted for someone to summon a doctor. Even Feiliu had pounced over. He hugged Mei Changsu’s shaking body, and was speechless like a terrified child who was only able to cry out “ah, ah”.
After a long struggle, Mei Changsu began to slowly calm down. He raised the handkerchief covering his mouth. A blot of glaring red blood flashed, and was crumpled away. Xiao Jingrui had already seen it and was very distressed, but kept quiet. He simply asked Mei Changsu softly, “Su, do you need to take one of Dr. Xun’s pills?”
“No need.” Mei Changsu fought to regulate his breathing and smiled at Feiliu. “It is just a cough. Don’t be scared, Feiliu. I’ll be all right if Feiliu helps me and pat me on the back tonight…”
“That’s right. With Feiliu patting my back, nothing would happen to me…”
Prince Jing had been watching from aside. He couldn’t leave, and couldn’t stay. He saw Su Zhe calm down now and hurried forward to inquire politely, “Is Mr. Su ill?”
Mei Changsu slowly turned his gaze, and found Tingsheng staring at him with wide eyes. Mei Changsu smiled softly at him and waved his hand, “Come here, Tingsheng.”
Tingsheng looked at Prince Jing. He didn’t really know what was going on, but he walked over to the long chair.
“Tingsheng, would you like me to be your teacher?”
Tingsheng was shocked. He did not know how to respond. Prince Jing frowned, “Mr. Su, Tingsheng is from the Secluded Courtyard…”
“I know.” Some moisture lingered in Mei Changsu’s eyes, probably due to his violent coughs. They made his gaze look more intense as he continued, “I am simply asking. Would you like me to?”
Tingsheng’s chest heaved sharply. For some reason, he was suddenly certain that this was an opportunity. So, he squared his jaws, straightened his back, and answered loudly, “Yes!”
“All right.” The smile on Mei Changsu’s pale face widened. He reached out and held the child’s hand in his. “Go back for now. I will definitely find a way to have you by my side.”