Chapter 21: Guidepost of Mu
Mei Changsu arrived before the Phoenix Building the next day as promised. He took a seat within the Marquess of Ning’s tent, with Xie Bi accompanying him at his side. Sure enough, before the tournament began, a eunuch in green robes appeared, a Royal Edict in hand, and announced the new addition to the tournament. It was a Royal Edict, and there was sufficient justification, so nobody voiced any opposition. The announcement quickly concluded and did not delay the start of the tournament.
Xiao Jingrui and Yan Yujin had matches towards the beginning of the tournament and both entered the stage before long. Regardless of how weak the group was, it was impossible for a mediocre man to enter the last round, so their opponents were rather impressive. Xiao Jingrui entered the stage first to compete against a young swordsman in his twenties. The two were of similar age and used the same weapons, and went head-to-head as soon as the match began. They returned speed with agility, and strength with power. Their fight was a dazzling display, but it was completely lacking in ingenuity. However, such a battle would certainly show a swift outcome. Xiao Jingrui was the superior in techniques, so his opponent admitted his defeat briskly and left the stage without further ado. He seemed to be a rather forthright person by his actions and temperament. Mei Changsu saw from a distance that Meng Zhi had ordered someone to summon the young swordsman to him. Presumably, Meng Zhi liked his temper and wanted to gather him under his command.
Once Yan Yujin’s opponent entered the stage, it was apparent that he was a worldly martial artists rich in battle experiences. His steps were firm and his gaze was steady. His square face was weathered by the elements, and he had high bloated temples. His two palms were thick with callouses, showing his diligence in training. He was a sharp contrast with the handsome and delicate nephew of the Empress, who was ruffling his fan upon the stage. This was going to be interesting.
“Speaking of which, this is my first time seeing Yujin in combat,” said Mei Changsu. He switched his gaze back and forth between the battle upon the stage and Xiao Jingrui, who had just entered the tent and settled into his seat. “I’ve always found it a bit strange. You have a background with Heaven’s Spring, and your father here possesses military decorations, so it is only natural for you to be skilled in martial arts. However, the Yan family has had civil officials in every generation, and it is a noble family without any ties to the martial arts world. Yet, you guys have always claimed that his skills are on par with yours in your conversations. I finally figured it out today. So, Yujin is actually a disciple of the Kun Sect. I’ve underestimated him.”
Xiao Jingrui explained hastily, “Yujin has not entered the Kun Sect, nor is he a recognized disciple. Due to a severe illness during his youth, he needed a high-level mantra to protect his body. The Master of the Kun Sect was old friends with his grandpa, the deceased Grand Preceptor Yan, so he accepted Yujin as a disciple in name only. This was never publicized, so we did not especially mention it to you.”
Mei Changsu smiled. He did not respond, and instead focused his eyes upon the stage. The martial art style of the Kun Sect was famous for its maneuvers and techniques. The sect was very strict with the aptitude of their disciples, and was less concerned with whether or not they were diligent in their practise. It fitted Yan Yujin’s personality perfectly. His robes fluttered as he whisked around the stage, a light breeze flowing from his fan. The degree of his damage was yet to be seen, but his dashing handsomeness was certainly first rate.
“It appears that I was not the only one to underestimate him. The Langya Hall Master had been imprecise in his ranking as well.” Mei Changsu gave a clap and laughed. The moment his two palms touched, an attack sent a grey streak flying out from the stage. Yan Yujin pranced gracefully to the middle of the stage in his fine clothes and fragrant fan. He lifted his chin up slightly, his big eyes appearing to sweep every angle below the stage.
“I don’t think there’s any imprecision,” said Xie Bi, tilting his head. “Look at that frivolous air. It’s pretty generous to let him be tenth!”
Xiao Jingrui was already used to the ways of his good friend, and he simply pretended to not have noticed. He leaned closer to Mei Changsu and spoke by his ear, “Baili Qi will be in the next match.”
Mei Changsu inclined his head slightly and raised his cup to sip some tea. Right then, Yan Yujin sauntered in proudly, and loudly asked if they had paid attention to his awe-inspiring performance upon the stage.
“You call that awe-inspiring?” Xiao Jingrui couldn’t resist, and began to tease, “I think your opponent was actually blinded by your fluttering fan and slipped off the stage himself.”
“You’re just jealous of me,” pouted Yan Yujin, and ignored him. He walked straight to Mei Changsu’s side and squeezed Xie Bi away. “What do you think, Su? I have better aptitude than Jingrui, right?”
“That’s true,” chuckled Mei Changsu, “But you like to fool around a bit too much. It clearly could’ve ended in fifty moves, but you had to drag it to sixty-three. Was it for me to see your ‘Falling Petals’ technique?”
Yan Yujin froze for a moment, and a hint of admiration flashed in his eyes. “You have sharp eyes, Su. It’s unfortunate that my opponent isn’t some flower-like beauty, or the attack would really make her flutter to the ground like falling petals.”
Xiao Jingrui snorted, “If your opponent was actually some beautiful lady, the one fluttering to the ground would be you!”
“Stop messing around, the next people are out. Is that Baili Qi?” asked Xie Bi, knocking on the table.
Everyone raised their heads. The contestants for the next match were indeed already standing upon the stage. One of them had a pleasing figure with broad shoulders, long limbs, and a narrow waist. He was dressed neatly in a blue outfit, light armor circling his waist. He held a fang lance in his hand. By his weapon, he seemed to be a military man suited for cavalry battles. Clearly, he must be rather exceptional to qualify for the last round. The person he was facing was exceedingly stocky. He had bulging muscles from head to toe, which could be seen from even underneath his clothes. His huge hands were empty. It was, of course, the person who had astounded everybody yesterday through a single battle—Baili Qi.
“Such a boorish and ugly person definitely cannot be a good match for the Princess,” said Xie Bi. It was his first time seeing Baili Qi, and he was more roused than the others. “Besides, he is a foreigner from the Yan empire. We need to think of a way to drive him off, no matter what.”
“Who is that person?”
“Let me check,” said Xie Bi, flipping through the programme in his hands. “He is a Lieutenant General of the Divine Might Battalion. His name is Fang Lance… Eh? He actually has the same name as his weapon…”
“Brother, that’s not what Su’s asking.” Xiao Jingrui gave Xie Bi a shove, and turned to Mei Changsu, “That is the little Prince Mu who had just recently succeeded the title of the Prince of Yunnan. I suppose he heard the news yesterday and is worried about his sister, and decided to sit outside to get a clearer view.”
“Jingrui, that’s not what Su’s asking either,” snickered Yan Yujin. “He’s wearing robes embroidered with silver dragons, and he’s sitting underneath a magnificent tent with the character of Mu. Anybody with eyes can see that he is the little Prince Mu. Su is asking about the person standing behind the little Prince.”
“Do you know who he is?” asked Mei Changsu, tilting his head over.
“I don’t know.”
“If you don’t know, then what’re you blabbering on about?” Xiao Jingrui stood up, “I’ll go ask around.”
Mei Changsu reached out and stopped him. “There’d no need. I only asked out of curiosity as the person possesses an impressive aura about him. I suppose he ought to be some important officer in the Manor of Mu. There’s no need to inquire into the details.”
“He is our manor’s General Zhangsun,” said a sudden voice at the tent’s entrance. Xiao Jingrui shot up immediately to shield everyone behind him.
A middle-aged person appeared. He was dressed in the crimson uniform of officials, and had three strands of whiskers flowing from his chin. He bowed in greeting, “I have been presumptuous in my visit. Please forgive me if I have startled anyone.”
“So it is the esteemed Guidepost of the Manor of Mu.” Even though Xie Bi did not recognize the visitor, he could still guess his identity from his outfit. He stood up and returned the greeting, “To what do we owe the pleasure of your visit, sir?”
Before the visitor had a chance to reply, Yan Yujin shouted suddenly, “Ah! He lost!”
Mei Changsu looked at Baili Qi, who had already defeated his opponent during their idle chatter, and was now standing upon the stage expressionlessly. Mei Changsu shook his head and sighed. Even though the battle today was not decided in a single move, the match was still completely one-sided. There was nothing mysterious to Baili Qi’s techniques. He was simply sturdy and strong. His opponent attempted in vain to battle strength with technique, and was defeated during a slip in his defence.
The middle-aged man in crimson took this opportunity to say, “I am Guidepost Wei Jingan of the Manor of Mu. I came to request an audience with Mr. Su regarding precisely this matter.”
“There’s no need to be so polite. What’s the need for requesting an audience when you’re already here? A visitor is a guest. Sit, sit,” said Yan Yujin with ease, as if he was the master within this tent of the Marquess of Ning. He dragged a chair over.
“Many thanks,” said Wei Jingan. He actually dropped the pleasantries as suggested, and went straight to the point, “Nobody is as anxious about this tournament for Princess Nihuang’s husband as our people in the Manor of Mu. Baili Qi astonished everyone with his performance yesterday. Even though our Princess is as calm as usual, our little Prince is very anxious. Thus, he especially ordered me to come see Mr. Su and make an inquiry as to whether or not any actions should be placed in motion.”
Once he finished, even Mei Changsu himself couldn’t hide his incredulous expression, not to mention the others.
The group gathered in the tent had certainly been discussing the matter of Baili Qi. However, that was only due to a feeling of concern that arose from their respect for Princess Nihuang as a citizen of Liang. Yet, going by the words of Wei Jingan, it sounded like this problem was supposed to be Mei Changsu’s responsibility right from the start.
“Guidepost Wei,” said Mei Changsu carefully after some consideration, “Could it be that the little Prince is under the impression that I should take some sort of action?”
“Is there no need for action still?” Wei Jingan raised his brows. “Or could it be that Mr. Su does not believe that Baili Qi could pose a viable threat?”
“I do not dare to make such claims at present. However, what I find odd is…why would the little Prince want to ask me?”
Wei Jingan was a bit shocked as well. His eyes widened, “Didn’t Mr. Su already have an agreement with our Princess that this tournament is only held to obey the orders of His Majesty, and that nobody will be chosen in actuality?”
These words were even more mind-blowing than the ones before. The young men were dumbfounded. They all stared stupefied at Mei Changsu.
Since he entered the capital, Mei Changsu had only ever been alone with Princess Nihuang for that little while. Who could’ve imagined that he moves so swiftly? Even such a promise has been pledged, and he didn’t make a peep even when he watched everyone run around in circles for the tournament. He really knew how to keep his calm.
Of course, Mei Changsu himself was also flabbergasted. He was just about to defend himself, but he began to cough from breathing in some cold air. Xiao Jingrui looked on from the side with a long face. However, he still softened after a little bit and came over to pat Mei Changsu’s back to ease his coughs.
“Guidepost Wei, I do not know how such claims came to be. However, I must still trouble you to give a reply to the little Prince.” Mei Changsu drank some hot tea to moisten his throat and continued, “The Princess had indeed instructed me to complete a task for her, but the matter is very different than what you spoke of. I’m afraid that the little Prince is probably misunderstanding something.”
“Misunderstanding something?” Wei Jingan froze. “Then what matter did the Princess entrust to you?”
“The Princess was only worried about the Emperor feeling fatigued, and entrusted me to assist with the literary tournament of the top ten candidates and help her arrange their rankings somewhat. There was no mention of anything else.”
He didn’t appear to be lying to Wei Jingan. Besides, Mei Changsu did not have any reason to lie to him. Wei Jingan was at a loss for what to do. He did not know what sort of miscommunication occurred between the Princess and the little Prince, but going by the little Prince’s instructions today, this Su Zhe should be someone the Princess holds in high trust and great fondness. Mei Changsu appeared graceful when Wei Jingan first laid eyes upon him, but he was sickly and weak, and did not seem to be a good match for his heroic Princess. It works out fine if he denies those claims.
“Please forgive my rashness then, Mr. Su.” Wei Jingan bowed politely. “But even so, the Princess must already view you has a friend to entrust to you a matter of such importance as the literary tournament. May I suppose that you will not stand idle in the matter of Baili Qi either?”
“I dare not do anything but try my hardest. I must urge the little Prince to refrain from being overly troubled as well. The Princess had calmed many storms and settled many predicaments in her days. She would not make a mistake in her marriage. I believe that this matter will be promptly resolved as well.”
“I hope it goes according to your auspicious words.” Wei Jingan was a straightforward person. Once he had finished, there was no need for more courteous exchange. He bowed to everyone in the tent and left.
“Feiliu’s not here today?” asked Yan Yujin, watching his disappearing figure. “We didn’t notice since there’s always people coming and going, but he actually came to straight to our entrance and heard us talk…”
“There’s a fair at East Market today, so I let Feiliu go there to play,” answered Mei Changsu, smiling. “However, the Guidepost is a civil office, and yet he possesses such skills in the lightfooted arts. Look at the air of that General Zhangsun serving next to the little Prince as well. The Manor of Mu is truly filled with talents, and Yunnan is certainly worthy of its fame as the world’s greatest principality.”
“Also, no one from Yunnan signed up for such a large-scale tournament. One can see that to them, the Princess is truly someone to be worshipped but never touched,” added Xie Bi.
“Jingrui, why are you upset?” asked Mei Changsu, who had found an unusual expression on the young man beside him.
Xiao Jingrui mumbled with a rigid expression, “Why didn’t you tell me that the Princess had asked you to oversee the literary tournament?”
“What, was Su supposed to report it to you?” asked Xie Bi incredulously.
Mei Changsu did not mock him, but rather explained patiently and warmly, “Jingrui, of course I must agree to such a request from the Princess. However, overseeing the literary tournament is such an important matter. It can’t be decided with just the Princess’s invitation, and would require the Emperor’s royal permission. I have not received any Royal Edicts in these days, so I supposed that His Majesty has not given permission. Because of that, I did not mention it to you guys.”
“It’s normal to not have mentioned it. Su is such a responsible person, so he naturally wouldn’t jabber about something still undecided.” Xie Bi laughed out loud. “What I’m finding strange is why you’re so upset, brother.”
Xiao Jingrui also thought that he was being unreasonable after thinking it over a bit, and blushed slightly.
Yan Yujin covered his mouth and laughed for awhile too. He said mockingly, “It’s because Jingrui likes Su, of course. He’s always thinking that since he was the one to invite Su to Jinling, he should be the closest with Su. Now he discovered someone else being close with Su too, who he didn’t know about, of course he’d be jealous.”
“My brother has been stingy like this since he was young. He clings on to anything he likes, and wouldn’t let me touch them at all. How come you’re still like this when you’re all grown up?”
“What’re you babbling about, you brat? What did I cling on to and not give you?”
“That chestnut stallion!”
“That horse was too spirited. You fell whenever you tried to ride him, so of course I didn’t dare to let you ride him anymore. What if you were knocked silly?”
“And Lin Shu!” exclaimed Yan Yujin, adding to the chaos. “You were happy as a clam when Lin Shu taught you archery, but then you discovered the next day that he taught me too. You ended up not talking to me for days!”
Mei Changsu felt his heart freeze, as if all the blood in his body gathered and congealed there. His face suddenly turned pale.
“What’s wrong?” Xiao Jingrui rushed over and asked anxiously, “Do you feel unwell again? You’re like this a lot these days. Are Dr. Xun’s pills ineffective?”
“An elixir of life does not exist.” Mei Changsu managed a smile, “I’m already much better than before. There’s only a short pain with an attack, and I would recover soon after.”
“It’s too cold here inside the tent,” said Yan Yujin, bringing over a fur cloak, “I’ll tell them to add another firepit.”
“It’s not even winter yet. There’s no need.” Mei Changsu looked at Yan Yujin and Xie Bi and grinned, “Do you two usually gang up like this to bully Jingrui?”
“That’s right,” answered Yan Yujin happily. “It’s really fun to bully him. Do you want to join, Su?”
Mei Changsu turned and pressed Xiao Jingrui as he spoke quietly, “You’ve been friends with him for so long. Don’t you know him yet? The more riled up you are, the happier he gets. Just ignore him, and he wouldn’t be able to have fun by himself.”
“Hmph. Su really is biased towards Jingrui,” protested Yan Yujin. “But it’s no big deal even if you teach him, since I can always think up a new way to bully him. Are you scared, Jingrui?”
Xiao Jingrui was a smart person and a fast learner. He ignored Yan Yujin this time, and focused on chatting quietly with Mei Changsu. The Empress’s nephew saw that his attack had fallen through, and found it really boring. He circled around in the tent for a bit, then ran outside again to entertain himself with who knows what.