Chapter 24: Provoking the Enemy Envoy with Wit
After claiming another victory, Baili Qi returned to his seat and showed no intention of standing up again. Xiao Jingrui took this into his eyes and stood up with a grave expression. He hugged his fists coldly towards Baili Qi and announced, “I, Xiao Jingrui, request a match with the Warrior Baili.”
It was the first time for Baili Qi to be challenged that day. A light flickered in his eyes, and he turned around to look at his empire’s ambassador. When he saw the ambassador shake his head at him, Baili Qi’s expression immediately turned nonchalant. He shook his head in refusal and said, “I’m tired.”
Xiao Jingrui knew that his name would easily make others mistake him for a Prince of Liang, and suspected that to be the reason for Baili Qi to refuse his challenge. He added hurriedly, “I am the son of the Marquess of Ning, Xie Yu, here to seek guidance. If Warrior Baili feels tired, then please instruct me after you have rested for awhile.”
Baili Qi turned around again and saw the ambassador of Yan shaking his head still. “No more fighting today,” said Baili Qi.
Actually, it was widely known that Xiao Jingrui was not a competitive person. For something like a martial arts duel, he always believed that there was no need to make enemies regardless of victory or defeat. However, Baili Qi’s actions that day really went over the line. Sometimes, his opponent would have clearly backed off in defeat, but he still insisted on chasing after them to strike them down completely. It roused the anger of the even-tempered young man, making his blood rush so much as to actually initiate a challenge. Xiao Jingrui had gathered up his courage, resolving to repress the audacity of Baili Qi somewhat even if he had to bear heavy injuries. He never thought that he would be so coolly turned away right from the start. It just so happened that the man did indeed fight in many consecutive rounds as well. With Xiao Jingrui’s kind nature, he was seriously incapable of saying something like “you’re feinting tiredness to avoid fighting”. He was frozen in anger for awhile. Finally, he said, “Then Warrior Baili, please schedule a time with me. Let us battle another day.”
Baili Qi drank some tea and shook his head for the third time. He responded coldly, “Is there any reason to battle in another day? There are so many people here. If you really want to fight, then why don’t you pick someone else?”
Seeing him so insistent on refusing Xiao Jingrui, the Emperor of Liang became a bit excited. He turned his head and shot a look at Meng Zhi, and the Commander of the Royal Guards understood his thoughts immediately. He quickly leaned over and spoke by the Emperor’s ear, “Please do not misunderstand, Your Majesty. The Yan are not being submissive. They must know that Jingrui and Yujin are of noble status, and the two clearly seemed to be friendly with the Princess just now. The Yan only wish to avoid angering the higher powers of Liang too much. In actuality, Jingrui is not a match for Baili Qi.”
The Emperor of Liang’s expression remained unchanged upon hearing this, but he was inevitably a bit disappointed. Baili Qi had been so cocky today. As the ruler of Liang, he naturally hoped for a citizen of Liang to win back some honour. Unfortunately, it did not seem like his hopes would come true. Just as he was feeling rather down, he suddenly saw Mei Changsu whispering with the Princess at their table. Nihuang’s face was full of astonishment after hearing something. The Emperor couldn’t resist and asked, “Nihuang, what are you discussing with Mr. Su?”
Princess Nihuang paused for a moment and forced a smile, “Nothing much…”
The Emperor of Liang dipped his brows slightly with displeasure. He said gravely, “Don’t you lie to your liege, now. What were you discussing?”
Princess Nihuang gave a smile, “Of course I dare not. Mr. Su was only giving a few comments on the duel just now. There really was nothing else.”
“Oh? What observations do you have, Mr. Su? Please share them with us.”
Princess Nihuang glanced at Mei Changsu and saw him looking very reluctant. She had no choice but to stand up and say, “Mr. Su said that Warrior Baili’s power is overly hard but brittle, thus more liable to break. His path in martial arts is incorrect. If someone were to identify his flaws, he can be struck down with just a few children.”
The muscles on Baili Qi’s face twitched upon hearing such a comment, and some anger rose. However, the Yan ambassador took these words merely as the Liang attempting to regain their honour and responded arrogantly, “Those words could be applied to anyone. If you are capable, Mr. Su, why don’t you attempt to identify his flaws, then find some children to strike him down?”
Mei Changsu replied hastily with a smile, “I spoke imprudently. Please rest assured. It mustn’t have been easy for Warrior Baili to achieve such skills. I would never destroy someone’s future prospects so carelessly.”
He was evidently apologizing, but his words stung more than a provocation. His words plainly implied, “I can actually put my money where my mouth is, but I don’t want to destroy you.” The Yan ambassador had been feeling very pleased with their accomplishments and naturally did not take it well. He retorted, “If this gentleman has such abilities, then please try it before His Majesty. Our Warrior Baili is fatigued, but we dare not ruin Mr. Su’s good mood and keen interest in boasting.”
“Oh, it couldn’t be done so quickly,” said Mei Changsu, still wearing his warm smile. “Even if I were able to find some children immediately, I still need to train them for a few days at the very least. All right, let’s just say that my words were nonsense. Please do not take it to heart…”
To the Yan ambassador, Mei Changsu’s words sounded more and more like he was stating a fact. If he were to simply ignore Mei Changsu now, it would seem as if he was afraid of him. How could he leave things be, and allow the honour earned by Baili Qi’s fists to be taken away by someone’s clever tongue? If the Fourth Prince learns about this in the future, he would surely blame the Head Ambassador for being useless. Of course he had to make a retort. The Yan ambassador chuckled coldly and said, “If Mr. Su needs to train people, then we will wait. Please appoint a day, Your Majesty. We promise to show up whenever we are summoned.”
Mei Changsu looked like he was in somewhat of a predicament. He mumbled, “I’m not very familiar with the capital. Where would I be able to find these children…”
Find some children? If he makes a request, every single Liang citizen present would be able to find him a whole crowd immediately. However, nobody could figure out if he was actually speaking the truth or if he simply wanted to upset Baili Qi, so nobody dared to speak up.
Seeing this, the Yan ambassador was even more certain that Mei Changsu was bluffing. He immediately added fuel to the fire, “Where’s the difficulty in that? I’ve heard that there are many young disciples in the martial art studios of your royal capital…”
“The children in the martial art studios are too strong. I’m afraid that Warrior Baili may face a disadvantage. Besides, it would not be fair to have children who had already practised martial arts gang up on him.”
This person still insists on boasting even when pushed so far! The Yan ambassador gritted his teeth in anger, “No harm. We do not have any complaints.”
“That’s no good,” said Mei Changsu, shaking his head. “I need to find some weaker ones… Are there any weaker children in the Royal Palace, or in the households of everyone here?”
Everyone was very cautious. They did not dare to answer, fearing they would accidentally do Mei Changsu a disservice. Princess Jingning was the only one who did not really understand the situation. Plus, she had just recently been startled by the desolate circumstances within the Secluded Courtyard, so she answered immediately, “Yes, in the Palace. There are a bunch of little kids in the Secluded Courtyard. They’re all sticks and bones, and so pitiful.”
“The convicted servants within the Secluded Courtyard, huh,” said Mei Changsu quietly to himself. “They are rather more suitable than normal children, but would Your Majesty permit it…?”
The Emperor of Liang saw his gaze turn towards himself. He couldn’t really be certain if Mei Changsu wanted him to allow it or not. Just as he was hesitating, Meng Zhi’s voice whispered in his year, “Please give your permission, Your Majesty.”
The Emperor of Liang had absolute trust in this empire’s greatest warrior on the topics of martial arts. He immediately responded with, “I give my permission. Someone, go to the Secluded Courtyard and pick a few children to bring here.”
“Remember to choose some weaker ones!” added Mei Changsu.
The Yan ambassador was furious. He said fiercely, “The convicted servants are people as well. You must have a heart of steel, Mr. Su, to send these children to their deaths.”
Princess Jinging had become very anxious when she saw the results of her off-handed remark. She jumped in to reply, “That’s right! Isn’t this sending those children to their deaths? Father, this can’t be okay!”
“Please rest assured, Princess. I do have some confidence,” soothed Mei Changsu. “What’s more, as convicted servants, they ought to serve His Majesty even if it ends in their death. Not to mention that if they were to win, His Majesty would bestow them with great rewards.”
Princess Jingning became even more upset hearing that, “They labour in the Palace every day. Regardless of how much money they are bestowed, they have no place to spend it. Their lives are more important, of course!”
“That’s true,” said Mei Changsu. He looked up and pondered for a moment, “These little convicted servants have no hope in their hearts. I suppose they would be rather lazy and hard to train. This was a bad idea, I shouldn’t have chosen them…”
The Yan ambassador was initially rather surprised when he saw them going off to pick people, and immediately calmed again when he saw Mei Changsu showing signs of retreating. He jeered, “You’re really stubborn, Mr. Su, refusing to give up on your boasting even now. Actually, you only need to make an apology. Our Warrior Baili is a very forgiving person.”
Mei Changsu stared at him with a steady gaze, until the Yan ambassador was beginning to look a bit uncomfortable. Then, he gave a sigh and said, “I have given you a chance to back down again and again, but you’ve refused to do so. If you insist on trying, then I have no choice but to be uncivil towards Warrior Baili.”
The Yan ambassador was furious. He was just about to retort, but the eunuch who was sent to the Secluded Courtyard had returned just then and reported, “Your Majesty, I have brought five children here.”
“Good. Tell them to come forward.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
Five little figures followed behind the eunuch, cowering as they walked into the Hall. They curled up into balls as they bowed on the ground.
Prince Jing had already been feeling suspicious. He pretty much understood the situation after seeing Tingsheng in their midst. As he saw everyone’s attentions gathered on the children, he quickly found an opportunity and whispered a few words to his sister Jingning next to him.
“Raise your heads. Report your ages. Which guilty officials are you the descendants of?” asked the Emperor of Liang coldly.
The five children were all scared out of their wits. Urged and threatened by the eunuch, they finally responded one by one, brokenly and with shaking voices. When it was Tingsheng’s turn, he said quietly with a pale face, “I am e-eleven. T-he grandson of…t-the former Grand Secretary of the Hall of…S-Supreme Harmony…who was found g-guilty in…the corruption c-case of the Royal Examinations…”
Mei Changsu suddenly felt his heart clench, and immediately raised his teacup for a drink to cover it up. Thinking back about it now, the women in the household of Prince Qi were really worthy of awe and respect. While they were confined in the Secluded Courtyard, and without any assistance from the outside world, the women managed to cooperate and scheme a fake identity for Tingsheng, the posthumous child born through luck. They protected him and allowed him to escape elimination from the Crown Prince and Prince Yu. Unfortunately, these courageous women had suffered extreme torment, and not many were still among the living.
The five children finished their responses. The Emperor of Liang didn’t really take it to heart. He made a sound of approval, then asked Mei Changsu, “Do you think these children are usable, Mr. Su?”
“Five is too many. We cannot take advantage of Warrior Baili too much. Three is more than enough.” Mei Changsu glanced at the children carelessly and pointed at three people including Tingsheng. “I’m afraid that I would need to take them home with me to train them for two days. Can Your Majesty permit it?”
“I permit it. I will grant great rewards if there is a victory in two days.”
Mei Changsu sighed, “Your Majesty is benevolent, but the Princess was right just now. These children are all convicted servants. They would have no place to use any silver or gold bestowed upon them.”
The Emperor of Liang chuckled and said, “You misunderstand. My intent was to grant great rewards to you.”
“Eh?” Mei Changsu looked confused, “There would be no need to reward me. They are the ones who will be working hard. Please reward them with something they can enjoy instead, Your Majesty.”
“Of course they shall be rewarded as well.” The Emperor of Liang saw the Yan ambassador turning red with anger while listening to this exchange, and was very pleased. “If they win, I will reward them with…err…with…”
He was trying to thinking of what the reward should be when Princess Jingning interrupted and said, “Father, you need to promise a great reward to make them willing to work their hardest, and to make it easier for Mr. Su to train them. In my opinion, the biggest reward to these convicted servants would be to release them from hard labour and allow them to leave the Secluded Courtyard to find another station in life. Even if you were to reward them with a mountain made of gold or silver, Father, it’s not as good as that.”
The Emperor of Liang saw that his little daughter was feeling really sympathetic towards the little convicted servants today. In order to make her happy—plus, those children weren’t really important—he nodded without much thought and agreed. “All right. It will be as you wish. If they achieve a victory, I will permit them to be released from hard labour and have the Royal Household Department find them appropriate stations.”
Princess Jingning was ecstatic. “Thank you, Father! I just know that Father is most gracious and benevolent.”
“Oh you, you’re so soft-hearted. Although, it’s not bad for girls to be soft-hearted.” The Emperor of Liang looked at her lovingly, then turned towards everyone in the Hall. “Let us adjourn for today. Before the Princess’s literary tournament in two days, let us all witness the results of Mr. Su’s training before starting the battle of ink and brushes.”
Everyone stood up immediately and said as one, “Yes, Your Majesty.