Chapter 18: Old Friend
That night, Xiao Jingrui brought home a Royal Physician for Mei Changsu, but the doctor was afraid to interfere once he learned that the patient was taking medicine from Dr. Xun. He left orders to “rest well and avoid emotional stress”, then left immediately. Mei Changsu sent Xiao Jingrui off with the doctor, using the excuse of wanting to sleep early. He didn’t actually go to bed. Rather, he threw on a coat, opened the windows, and sat quietly beneath the windowsill. He stared at the crescent moon hanging in the sky, as if in deep thought.
Feiliu walked over. He sat on the little rug nearby, plopped his head onto Mei Changsu’s knee, and shook him gently.
Mei Changsu looked down on the black-haired head on his knee. He reached and patted it softly, asking quietly, “What’s wrong with our Feiliu? Feeling lonely?”
Feiliu raised his head and looked at Mei Changsu with eyes clear as daylight. “Don’t be sad!”
Mei Changsu was a bit taken aback. After a while, a warm smile appeared on his face. “I was only caught up in my thoughts. I’m not sad. Don’t worry, Feiliu.”
Feiliu shook his head and insisted, “Don’t be sad!”
That instant, Mei Changsu felt his whole heart melt, as if his emotions were about to burst from his control. Only a flickering breath remained in his chest, supporting his body’s movements and expressions. How easy it would be to not be sad! He only need to seek a secluded scenic location to recuperate, and have a few good friends visit frequently. There would be no intrigue, no conspiracies, and no betrayals. He would be able to recover from his lingering illness. He wouldn’t need to disappoint other’s good intentions. What a delight it would be for his body and soul! Unfortunately, that was ultimately a dream. The things he had placed upon himself, he must grit his teeth and carry them to the end, regardless of how heavy and painful they were.
“Feiliu, why don’t you go back to Lang Prefecture?” suggested Mei Changsu quietly, caressing the youth’s head.
Feiliu’s eyes widened. He dived frantically and latched on to Mei Changsu’s waist. “Don’t want!”
“I can write a letter to Lin Chen and tell him to stop teasing you. Would that be okay?”
“But Feiliu,” said Mei Changsu with a hint of insuppressible sorrow, “If you remain by my side, you will see me turn more and more evil. Eventually…Feiliu will be sad too…”
“Feiliu like this.” Feiliu pressed his face tightly against Mei Changsu’s knee. “Won’t be sad!”
“Is that enough?” Mei Changsu gave a long sigh. “Can you be very happy just by remaining at my side and resting upon my knee?”
Mei Changsu gathered Feiliu’s face into his hands gently. He ran his fingers over Feiliu’s forehead, his expression growing more sorrowful. “All right… If that is the case, then at the very least, I should be able to preserve your happiness… Feiliu, you need to remember this. Regardless of what happens in the future, don’t be afraid, because there will always be someone taking care of you. You will always be my…happiest child…”
Feiliu blinked. He couldn’t really understand what was said, but he could feel its warmth and kindness. So, imitating Mei Changsu, he used his fingers to pull a slight smile on his icy face that was still unaccustomed to smiling. His forceful tugging made him look strange, but it was already a rare expression of his emotions.
“Our Feiliu is so cute. When we return to Lang Prefecture, let’s smile for Lin Chen too, okay?”
“You really dislike Lin Chen, don’t you?” chuckled Mei Changsu soundlessly. He gathered Feiliu into his arms and rocked gently. “You’re better than me… It would be great if I can be so carefree…and so happy…”
Feiliu broke away from his arms. He sat up straight and spoke earnestly, “Can!”
Mei Changsu looked at him warmly, “Can I really?”
“Can!” repeated Feiliu. He rose and dragged a tall stool over. He sat on it, then pulled Mei Changsu to sit on the rug. He moved Mei Changsu’s head and placed it on his own knee. “Like Feiliu! Su can too!”
Mei Changsu felt his eyes moisten. He rested his head on Feiliu’s knee, and felt Feiliu’s fingers slipping into his hair and caressing him softly, caressing into him his purest love and reliance.
“Our Feiliu is so smart,” murmured Mei Changsu, shutting his eyes tightly. “So Su can be like this too…”
“Can!” Feiliu made a great effort and tried to smile again. At the same time, he rocked his knee and began to slowly hum a soothing tune.
“Feiliu has learned this song as well?”
“Learned! Feiliu sings!”
Mei Changsu took a deep breath and tried to relax every muscle in his body. Weariness washed over him.
“Sleep!” said Feiliu.
“Feiliu is sleepy and wants to sleep?”
“No! Su sleep! Feiliu fights bad guy!”
Mei Changsu froze, then quickly understood what Feiliu meant. He raised his eyebrows, “Someone came into the Snow Cottage?”
“Yup!” nodded Feiliu, “Outside! Uncle! Feiliu go fight him!”
Mei Changsu breathed a sigh of relief. He pulled on Feiliu’s arm and stood up, calling out the window, “Please come in, Meng.”
Just as his voice faded, a shadow flitted into the room. He clearly had a muscular physique, yet his movements were as quick as a spirit.
“This uncle is Su’s guest. Let’s not fight him, Feiliu. Let’s go sleep, okay?” Mei Changsu coaxed the youth into the inner chamber, Meng Zhi following behind him. The two adults waited until Feiliu laid down on his bed and closed his eyes obediently, then went to sit at the round table at the centre of the room.
“Did those two leave?” asked Mei Changsu as he poured a cup of tea for Meng Zhi.
“I delivered your message, but Wei Zheng looked like he didn’t want to leave…”
“Then what does he want to do?”
“Stay in the capital and help you, of course. He said that this is everyone’s business and that he can’t have you shouldering the burden yourself…”
“Nonsense!” responded Mei Changsu angrily. “He’s different from me. I’m all alone, but he has Ms. Yun. She had been waiting for him for the past twelve years, separated by life and death. She finally waited to see the day of him coming back after surviving, and the two are finally able to be together after enduring all that hardship. Why is he making a commotion again? I don’t need him here. He needs to leave if he wants to, and leave if he doesn’t!”
“You don’t need to get angry,” comforted Meng Zhi. “I know Wei Zheng. Regardless of how he feels, he will obey your orders. I am only worried about you right now. Did you come to the capital like this, unarmed and alone? Didn’t you bring any support?”
“But I brought Feiliu.”
“You mean that child?” Meng Zhi looked towards the bed. “Speaking of which, I’m really sorry about the other day. I didn’t know that this child was yours. I was shocked by his abilities, and fought him out of curiosity. I hope I didn’t cause you any trouble?”
“No,” said Mei Changsu lightly, “I only gained some fame.”
“Why didn’t you notify me first before coming here? How am I supposed to help you right now without any preparations?”
“Are you going to help me?” Mei Changsu smiled with indifference, “Forget about it. You are the Commander of the Royal Guards right now, and in high favour with the Emperor. Why should you endure hardships for me? You are helping me enormously just by pretending not to know me.”
Meng Zhi gritted his teeth and furrowed his brows in anger. “Did you really mean that? What kind of person do you take me for?”
Mei Changsu smiled, so faintly that it was barely noticeable. He grabbed Meng Zhi’s elbow and squeezed. He answered quietly, “Meng, how could I not know your feelings? Ignoring the fact that you were war buddies with us, you wouldn’t stand idly by just based on your chivalry alone. However, I really do not have an absolute chance of success in what I’m doing. I don’t want to drag you in. I fear that some small carelessness will destroy overnight the loyal name of Meng that has existed for generations…”
“Loyalty lies in the heart, not in the name. As long as you do not directly harm the Emperor, you will never be my enemy.”
“The Emperor? The Emperor is forever a knife, holding the power to kill and cut.” Mei Changsu smiled in understanding, “It seems that you’ve already guessed my reason for entering the capital.”
“Yes, I think I can guess it.” Meng Zhi’s eyes were filled with concern. “However, while it is simple to break the path of either the Crown Prince or Prince Yu, it will be hard to get rid of both of them. His Majesty will need to keep one no matter what!”
“Not necessarily,” chuckled Mei Changsu coldly, “These are not the only two sons of the Emperor.”
Meng Zhi had probably never considered the possibility of someone besides the Crown Prince and Prince Yu succeeding the throne. He asked with great astonishment, “You…you want to support Prince Jing?”
“Is there a reason why I should not?”
“I know that you and Prince Jing care for each other a lot, and I don’t think lightly of his capabilities either. To be fair, his disadvantages are really trivial. They are only the low status of his mother and general lack of attention from the Emperor. These can all change if he performs well in the future. The crucial point is that Prince Jing is not good with political schemes by nature, and detests struggles for power. Yet, the struggle for the throne is such a dangerous affair. How can someone of his nature defeat the ruthless and powerful Crown Prince and Prince Yu?!”
Mei Changsu fiddled with the lid of his cup. He spoke expressionlessly, “So what if he is bad with political schemes by nature? He has me. I will take on those dark and bloody affairs. In order to take down people of evil, I am willing to stab innocent people in the heart. It would make me sad, but when a person’s pain had once surpassed the limit, he can tolerate this level of sadness…”
His words were dark, but contained a bleakness and tragedy that was impossible to disguise. Meng Zhi stared at his face, dazed, and felt a sudden unbearable pain in his chest. Finally, he sighed and asked quietly, “Then…would Prince Jing agree?”
“Why not? His hatred for the Crown Prince and Prince Yu runs as deeply as mine. Not to mention, there is the throne waiting for him at the end. The throne has a special appeal. Not many people can resist it. Not even Jingyan…”
“That’s impossible!” said Meng Zhi, striking the table. “So he detests power struggles, but it’s not like you enjoy them! When did Prince Jing turn so heartless? Doesn’t he care about you?”
“Meng,” smiled Mei Changsu dimly, “You forgot, Jingyan doesn’t know that it’s me… I am already dead. I am already a scar in his heart… The person threatening and luring him to walk upon the path to the throne is simply a stranger named Su Zhe. Why should he care?”
“Ah!” cried Meng Zhi, vexed. “Right, he doesn’t know… But didn’t you meet him today? You didn’t tell him? And he didn’t recognize you?”
“Why would I tell him?” Mei Changsu’s face was pale as snow, but his eyes were very calm. “Regardless of how innocent a friend was once upon a time, people who return from hell turn into demons. Not only was he unable to recognize me, I can’t recognize myself anymore either.”
Meng Zhi clasped his hands together, so tight that his knuckles turned white. He wanted to use this to diminish the pain of his heart tearing apart. He still remembered the eighteen-year-old him, with his brilliant smile and healthy, apple-red cheeks at departure. Twelve years had flown by. Upon looking back, it already felt like a previous lifetime.
“Shu…” The hand he took into his were thin and pale. Meng Zhi could only imagine what hardships and pain he had to overcome to struggle back to the world of the living.
“Promise me, don’t ever tell Jingyan.” Mei Changsu looked out the window, his gaze blurred and distant. “The lively and cute friend he grew up with will never be the same person as the sinister and ruthless tactician. Isn’t it better this way?”
“You and great-grandma are the only two people in the entire royal capital who knows about Lin Shu’s return. I don’t wish for there to be a third person, Meng. Please.”
“You can rest assured with me, but how did the Grand Empress Dowager find out? She’s been getting a little muddled in the recent years.”
“I don’t know how she recognized me either, as I look entirely different now. But when she looked at me and called me ‘little Shu’, her gaze was so warm. I am sure that she didn’t simply call me by the wrong name… Perhaps her foggy memory of the past allows her to be more at ease. I am only her little Shu. I am supposed to appear at her side. Perhaps that’s why she was so happy, and not at all surprised.”
Meng Zhi was a bit uneasy, “The Grand Empress Dowager wouldn’t say anything, would she?”
“She wouldn’t,” said Mei Changsu calmly. “Besides, nobody would really pay attention to anything she says now.”
“Ahh…” Meng Zhi gave a long sigh, “That’s true.”
Mei Changsu raised his cup of tea and took a sip. He was silent for a moment, then asked slowly, “Meng, since you are here today, I have a question I want to ask you…”
“We’ve secretly contacted each other many times these years. How come you never told me that Jingyu has a posthumous child?”
“What did you say?” Meng Zhi almost jumped up in astonishment. “Prince Qi has a child?!”