Chapter 17: Choosing a Master
As to Mei Changsu’s sudden promise, the person who ended up being the most astounded was actually Prince Jing. Compared to Xiao Jingrui, he had a better understanding of the child’s status, and he knew exactly how difficult it would be to take him away from the Secluded Courtyard. After all, even the significant efforts of a Prince could not achieve the goal of taking Tingsheng into his manor. This young man was simply a good friend of a Marquess’s son. It would probably be futile even with Xiao Jingrui’s assistance, and this would merely result in another disappointment for Tingsheng.
“Mr. Su must be a kind person and can’t bear to see this child suffer,” said Prince Jing evenly. “However, the people within the Secluded Courtyard may only leave with the Emperor’s special pardon. It is not an easy task. Does Mr. Su think that it could be resolved with just a word from the Marquess of Ning?”
Xiao Jingrui said hurriedly, “Ah, I can ask Father to go meet the Emperor…”
“Jingrui.” Prince Jing cut him off immediately. “Are you requesting the Marquess of Ning to meet the Emperor for the son of a maid in the Secluded Courtyard? Please stop making such jokes.”
“But…” Xiao Jingrui was about to continue, but Mei Changsu pressed his arm and said, “Jingrui, Prince Jing is right. Every person in the Secluded Courtyard has criminal charges. It’s not such a simple matter as taking pity on someone from the streets and buying them back. You must not say anything about this matter with the Marquess, nor to anyone else, understand?”
“You don’t want us to help?” asked Xiao Jingrui incredulously. “Then how do you plan on rescuing him? Are you going to ask the Crown Prince and Prince Yu?”
Prince Jing raised his eyebrows. A light, sharp as a sword, flashed in his eyes. He said coldly, “So Mr. Su…is actually friends with the Crown Prince and Prince Yu. I have not paid you due respect!”
Mei Changsu glanced at him and ignored the comment. He continued his warm speech to Xiao Jingrui. “Jingrui, you must believe in me. I can be more confident about saving Tingsheng only if nobody else knows about this. As the son of a convicted maid, the Emperor’s suspicions will be raised in accordance with the status of the person asking for a special pardon. If not, Prince Jing could’ve saved him long ago. Promise me, pretend that you know nothing about this and do not bring it up again in the future, okay?”
Xiao Jingrui stared bewilderedly at him. Although he did not understand, he still nodded out of trust and respect for Su.
Right then, a person outside the courtyard announced, “Young master, the Marquess has returned.”
An idea struck Mei Changsu. He seized the chance and said, “Run along and go greet the Marquess. You don’t need to keep me company here.”
“But your body…”
“Don’t worry. You know that I cough a lot, it’s not a big deal. How can you not greet the Marquess when he returns to the manor? If you abandon the proper etiquette of a son in order to accompany me, the Marquess will think that I am a horrible friend you shouldn’t associate with. Go.”
Xiao Jingrui complied. He stood up and turned towards Prince Jing, “Then, I will accompany Your Highness out first.”
“Would Your Highness like to stay for a while longer? I have some details I want to ask…about Tingsheng…” said Mei Changsu, smiling.
Prince Jing’s eyes flickered. He couldn’t really figure out who exactly this strange and sickly young man was, and wanted to observe him some more. So, he nodded to Xiao Jingrui and said, “You can go ahead. Since Mr. Su has such good intentions, I want to get to know him better as well.”
“If so, then I will take my leave.” Xiao Jingrui reckoned his father to have passed the second gate by now, and was a bit worried. He hurriedly gave a bow and rushed to the main courtyard.
After the owner left, the two remaining men in the courtyard did not begin to converse immediately. Prince Jing coldly surveyed the man sitting on the long chair beneath the tree, his expression extremely vigilant. On the other hand, Mei Changsu was a lot more relaxed. He quietly instructed Feiliu to go outside the courtyard, then picked out a book and sent Tingsheng to read it in another corner of the courtyard. Finally, he turned his gaze to the Prince and gave him a faint smile.
“Even if Your Highness holds animosity towards me, there’s really no need to express it so clearly,” said Mei Changsu leisurely. “At least you and I have a common goal right now, which is to save Tingsheng.”
“That is what I find curious,” responded Prince Jing, his eyes filled with suspicion. “Why are you putting in so much effort to rescue Tingsheng? Is it only due to sympathy?”
“Of course not.” Mei Changsu took a look at the tiny figure reading in the corner. His eyes were extremely warm. “He has great qualities. I want to take him in as a student.”
Prince Jing snorted. “There are many more children with better qualities than him. With your many friends—the son of the Marquess of Ning, the Crown Prince, and Prince Yu—you can take in any student you want.”
“Then what is the reason for Your Highness to protect Tingsheng so? Your Highness charged into the manor of the influential Marquess of Ning for a little convicted servant. I’m guessing that it was not only due to sympathy?”
Prince Jing answered lightly, “I really like Tingsheng’s mother. I am only caring for the loved one of the person I love…”
“You are caring for the loved one of the person you love indeed, but it is definitely not because of his mother…” Mei Changsu closed his eyes for a bit, and his face was an expressionless mask, “…but his father…”
Prince Jing’s whole body trembled. The muscles on his face twitched involuntarily. His hands formed tight fists by his side, as if struggling to prevent them from colliding with the young man’s face.
“I suppose this is the difference in age between Jingrui and I. I understood immediately, but he couldn’t, because he was still a child at that time. He only knew to study literature and practise martial arts then. That event is too far in the past for him…” Mei Changsu was not looking at Prince Jing at all. A slightly bitter smile surfaced, and he continued, “Tingsheng is eleven, born in the Secluded Courtyard. Whose posthumous child is he? From the timing, the most fitting would be that person… You two were once deployed together, so you should’ve cared for each other a lot…”
Xiao Jingyan’s gaze stabbed at Mei Changsu like icicles. His voice did not hold any warmth as he asked, “Who…are you?”
“Neither the Crown Prince nor Prince Yu is my friend. They are trying to recruit me.” Mei Changsu laughed mockingly, “Do you know what comment Langya Hall has made for me? ‘Qilin prodigy. Obtain him to obtain the world.’ How could I be considered a qilin prodigy if I have no knowledge of the major events in the Princes’ lives?”
“From what you’ve said, it sounds like you are deliberately collecting information and secrets of this sort to prepare for your future actions?”
“That’s right,” answered Mei Changsu quickly. “What’s wrong with being a qilin? I will be relied on by the powerful and make contributions to the world. Perhaps in the future, my name may enjoy a space of worship in the Royal Ancestral Temple, and my fame will go down in history.”
Prince Jing’s eyes were dark. He asked with a voice filled with hostility, “Then, are you planning on choosing the Crown Prince or Prince Yu?”
Mei Changsu lifted his head slightly. His eyes looked at the blue sky beyond the balding branches. He stared and stared. Finally, he slowly pulled his gaze back and set them upon Prince Jing. “I want to choose you, Prince Jing.”
“Choose me?” Prince Jing reared back and laughed, but his eyes were sorrowful. “Then you must be blind. My mother is a lowly Concubine, and I do not have any notable relatives on her side. I am thirty-one, and have yet to be decorated as a Royal Prince. I have always kept company solely with rugged military men, and have no contacts within the Royal Court. What can you accomplish by choosing me?”
“Certainly, your situation is not ideal,” said Mei Changsu evenly. “Unfortunately, I have no better choice.”
“What does that mean? The Crown Prince and Prince Yu both have considerable support. It wouldn’t be a surprise if either one snatches the throne…”
“I don’t want to choose them precisely because it wouldn’t be a surprise if either one obtains the throne. Would it not be a great show of my qilin abilities if I can set a person nobody thought of on the throne, all by myself?”
Prince Jing took a long look at Mei Changsu. He couldn’t tell if this person was joking or serious.
“Your Highness, please be honest.” Mei Changsu returned his gaze calmly, like a demon luring someone to hell. “Are you really completely uninterested in becoming the Emperor?”
Xiao Jingyan’s heart quivered, and he silently clenched his jaw. As the Emperor’s son, it would be a lie to say that he had never held any desire for the throne. Yet, it would be untrue to say that he thinks about it constantly, or that seizing the throne is his most important goal in life. However, he was willing to pay any price if he could really prevent the Crown Prince and Prince Yu from claiming the throne.
“If I manage to save Tingsheng, then please consider it as a greeting gift for joining you.” Mei Changsu looked indifferent, but his words made Prince Jing’s blood churn. “The Eldest Prince, your most respected elder brother… Your wish is to have his only remaining blood leave the Secluded Courtyard, right?”
Prince Jing’s eyes quivered slightly. He spoke in staccato, “Can you really do it?”
“However… I do not actually appreciate people who are so calculating like you. Even if I were to ascend the throne with your assistance, you may not receive much merit or status from me. Are you fine with that?”
“Since I have a calculating mind, I will naturally have opportunities to discuss conditions with Your Highness.” Mei Changsu smiled broadly, making him appear sunny and lighthearted, much unlike his somber words. “You wouldn’t happen to be the type who kills accomplished officials, would you? That sounds more like Crown Prince and Prince Yu…”
Prince Jing began to think carefully with his fingers over his lips. This Su Zhe had said such ridiculous things, but he appeared to be very serious. Perhaps he was trying to deceive him, but he really couldn’t think of a motive. Whether it’s the Crown Prince or Prince Yu, neither had ever taken any brother besides each other to be a worthwhile opponent. They wouldn’t bother with sending such a capable person just to probe his thoughts. Then, what is he after? Is he really only choosing someone he wishes to support?
“Your Highness should think it over faster. After all, Tingsheng must return before dark,” urged Mei Changsu serenely.
Finally, Prince Jing gritted his teeth and made a decision. “All right. As long as you can prevent the Crown Prince and Prince Yu from ascending the throne, I can cooperate with you.”
“That’s not enough determination. You must make the throne your absolute goal.” Mei Changsu’s words were like ice. “You know what powers the Crown Prince and Prince Yu hold. If you want them to fail, then someone else must succeed. Who can be this person be but you? Of the living Princes, the Third Prince is crippled, the Fifth Prince is cowardly, and the Ninth Prince is too young… Like I said, your situation is not ideal, but there is no other choice…”
“You’re rather blunt.” Pince Jing’s eyes flashed with interest, “Since you’re interested in joining me, aren’t you afraid to offend me?”
“Do you only like to listen to pleasing words?” From his tone, Mei Changsu appeared very tired. He leaned back in his chair, his eyes half closed. “Please rest assured, Your Highness. In at most ten days after Princess Nihuang’s tournament, I will be able to take Tingsheng away from the palace. Right now… Please forgive me for not seeing you off.”
After he finished, he closed his eyes completely, as if beginning to nap. Xiao Jingyan did not pay much mind to such rude behaviour. He took a look at Mei Changsu, and did not say anything. Then, he stood up, called for Tingsheng, picked up the bag of books, and walked sharply out of the Snow Cottage