Chapter 19: The Faded Past
“What did you say?” Meng Zhi almost jumped up in astonishment. “Prince Qi has a child?!”
“You didn’t know about this either?” Mei Changsu was a bit surprised. “Jingyan really kept a tight lid on the secret, but that’s hardly surprising. If even the slightest bit of news fall into the ears of the Crown Prince or Prince Yu, then Tingsheng’s life is forfeit…”
“Is it true?” asked Meng Zhi incredulously. “All the men in Prince Qi’s household have died. All the women were seized into the Secluded Courtyard, and anyone who had somewhat of a title was forced into the afterlife within a year. How could there possibly be a surviving orphan?”
Mei Changsu’s eyes were heavy. He thought deeply for a moment and answered, “I cannot deduce the details either. However, Jingyu’s Princess was intelligent and wise, and Xiutong was strong and brave. They were both outstanding women who were not at all inferior to men. Besides, everything was in such chaos then. It wouldn’t be impossible for them to have fought to preserve a bit of Jingyu’s blood and have him hidden away within the Secluded Courtyard. Going by the way Jingyan cares for Tingsheng, he had probably confirmed the child’s identity. There should be no mistake.”
“What about his looks? Does he look like Prince Qi?”
“The child had been tormented since birth. He’s yellow and thin, so it’s hard to tell. However, sometimes you’ll see a shadow of Jingyu around his brows and eyes.”
“Since Prince Jing knew that he is Prince Yu’s child, why didn’t he take better care of him? The child went through so much suffering!” Meng Zhi couldn’t hold back his complaints.
“He doesn’t have a choice either. It would inevitably raise suspicions if he looks after a little palace servant out of the blue. If Tingsheng’s identity is revealed by some accident, do you think the Crown Prince and Prince Yu would simply leave it alone?”
“But we can’t just let the child stay in a place like the Secluded Courtyard!” Meng Zhi stood up passionately and began to pace back and forth in the room. Feiliu sat up in his bed and stared at him with icy eyes, fully alert.
“Let’s sleep, Feiliu.” Mei Changsu turned and coaxed Feiliu, then turned to Meng Zhi. “Sit down first, Meng. I know you’re worried, but don’t you think that Jingyan and I are worried as well? We must save Jingsheng. However, the plan must be absolutely foolproof, and we must rescue him without harming a hair on his body.”
“Do you already have a plan?” asked Meng Zhi anxiously.
“I have a rough idea, but I still need to hammer out the details. We can’t rush this. Haste makes waste, right?” Mei Changsu gave a sidelong look at Meng Zhi and raised his eyebrows. “Meng, you’re the greatest warrior of Liang now, and carry the heavy responsibility of protecting the Emperor. I’ve heard people praise you from as far as Lang Prefecture for your calmness and strong will. How come you’re having such trouble containing yourself today?”
Meng Zhi scratched his head and gave a long sigh. “I don’t know what it is either. In any other situation, it wouldn’t be hard for me to maintain my composure even if a mountain blew up. But, speaking to you right now, I feel like I returned to my rash and reckless younger self… Do you still remember the Battle of Gourd Valley? If it were not for Prince Qi’s three personally written orders holding back my reins, I probably would’ve charged straight into the enemy’s trap. If I let Gourd Valley fall, your esteemed father definitely would’ve plucked my head off and give it a great kick.”
“It’s true that Father did not have much trust in you back then, but he also said later that he cannot compare to Prince Qi in regards to identifying talents. Prince Qi could single you out from thousands of soldiers during a single battle practise, even though you were not the most spectacular. My father could not match his great judgment…”
“But who could compare with your esteemed father in terms of his ingenious and formidable command over his troops? Oh, how glorious the Red Flame Army was in those years. Any army would tremble before it.” As he spoke of old memories, Meng Zhi felt a surge of pride that had been submerged for many years. How regretful that there was no wine before them. Instead, Meng Zhi grabbed his teacup and took a big gulp, lamenting, “It’s such a pity that I was forcefully transferred away from the Red Flames before I was there for long. If I were able to hone myself under Prince Qi and your esteemed father, I would be much more capable than I am now.”
Mei Changsu sighed faintly, “Along with any loss comes a gain, I suppose. If you were not transferred away from the Red Flames, putting aside the fact that you wouldn’t have been able to escape the devastation twelve years ago, you would not be the Commander of the Royal Guards today simply due to your identity as an old member of the Red Flame Army.”
Mei Changsu’s words immediately reminded Meng Zhi of something else. He gritted his teeth and spoke bitterly, “Not necessarily. Isn’t there an old member of the Red Flames standing magnificently in Court right now, surrounded by a halo of light as ‘the Empire’s Pillar’?”
Mei Changsu’s hand on the table shook, then stilled. His fingertips pressed on the red tabletop, as if they were about to leave a few prints.
“It feels so gross, having to put up a false front and pretend to be friendly with him for these years.” Meng Zhi exhaled a long breath, as if trying to release all his melancholy. “And you. Why did you decide to come live in this place?”
“For safety,” answered Mei Changsu lightly.
“What? You think it’s safe here?”
“At least I can be rid of a lot of troubles.” Mei Changsu’s tone was like ice, chilling to the bone. “By taking advantage of those three young men, I am able to quickly come in contact with the important people at Court. This is certainly better than having my hands tied by entering Jinling as an aide due to the Crown Prince or Prince Yu’s summons.”
Meng Zhi thought it over and nodded in approval, but he saw Mei Changsu’s stiff expression and instinctively avoided delving deeper into this topic. He asked about something else instead, “What are your thoughts on this tournament for Princess Nihuang’s husband?”
“The Mu family of Yunnan is the empire’s protective screen of the south. The Princess had toiled away for the empire to the point of setting back her youth for many years. I only hope that she can find someone to love truly from this event. Everything else is unimportant.”
“Did you know that the Crown Prince and Prince Yu had both entered their own men into the tournament? If one of them succeeds, your goal would be much more difficult to achieve.”
“The Princess’s intelligence and zeal far exceeds mine, so there’s no need for me to worry about the tournament for her. However, the Yu and Yan empires still came forward to request a marriage even while knowing the slim chance of success. They must have an ace up their sleeves. You need to be extra cautious.”
“It’s getting pretty late. You should head back. As soon as the plan for rescuing Tingsheng is solidified, I will ask for you to assist me. Regarding Wei Zheng, I would also need to trouble you to watch them leave the capital, and tell them that they must not return again.”
Meng Zhi gave his promises and stood up. He took a step towards the exit, but then stopped, reluctant to leave. He turned and gazed at Mei Changsu. Meng Zhi’s eyes were filled with cherish and concern for Mei Changsu, but he understood that there was a limit as to what he can do. He couldn’t suppress the waves of sadness in his chest. Without much thought, he reached out his arms and gave Mei Changsu a tight hug.
The curtains around the bed fluttered slightly, and Feiliu shot out in a flash. He pointed his palm like a sword, aiming straight for Meng Zhi’s throat. After Meng Zhi avoided the attack by stepping back, Feiliu immediately twisted into a tumble and delivered another chain of lethal attacks.
“Feiliu!” Mei Changsu stopped him hurriedly, “The uncle is saying his farewells to me. He’s not bullying me. Don’t be angry now, Feiliu…”
“Feiliu not allow!” Anger spread on the youth’s icy face.
“Okay okay, it won’t happen again in the future.” Mei Changsu smiled at Meng Zhi apologetically, “Sorry Meng. Our Feiliu has always been like this.”
“No worries. I’m really happy that this child is so protective of you.” Meng Zhi shot a friendly smile towards Feiliu. “You have to protect him well, okay?”
Feiliu ignored him. He remained on guard by his Su’s side, not moving a single step.
“I’ll be leaving, then.” Meng Zhi took another long look at Mei Changsu and spoke quietly, “Shu, you need to take care of your body. You cannot let anything happen to you, you hear?”
Mei Changsu’s eyes grew hot. He hurriedly swallowed down his surge of emotions, and nodded without speaking.
Feiliu glared at Meng Zhi. His face was still expressionless, but his eyes clearly showed his great impatience. As soon as Meng Zhi hopped over the windowsill and vanished, he immediately went to close the window tightly.
“What’s going on? Our Feiliu doesn’t like that uncle?” teased Mei Changsu in a soft tone.
“Feiliu can’t win!”
“Don’t worry,” said Mei Changsu, caressing his hair. “Our Feiliu is still young. When you reach the uncle’s age, you will definitely be able to win against him.”
Feiliu’s expression still remained unchanged, but happiness immediately radiated from his eyes. Mei Changsu took his hand and led him to lie down on his bed. He tucked him in and quietly hummed a soft tune, staying by his side until he quietly closed his eyes. Only then did Mei Changsu leave quietly and go to bed himself.