Chapter 25: Training Children
The Emperor of Liang rose, supported by the hand of a eunuch, and returned to the Inner Palace. Everybody within the hall stood respectfully until the Emperor was gone, then scattered one by one. The Crown Prince and Prince Yu both rushed over, wanting to inquire after the authenticity of Mei Changsu’s startling proclamations. Prince Jing was the only one to leave quietly by himself.
Mei Changsu showed admiration in his eyes. As if he couldn’t help it, he praised, “I never imagined that Prince Jing would have such composure. He does not speak nor act more than he should, and I’ve never seen him lose his calm under any circumstance. He really has the grace of a Royal Prince.”
So that’s the type the qilin prodigy likes. Hearing his words, the Crown Prince and Prince Yu swallowed back their torrent of questions and greeted Mei Changsu nonchalantly, then walked out with “composure” as well.
A few words from Mei Changsu got rid of two Royal Princes. He turned around and immediately saw Princess Nihuang nodding at him while barely suppressing her laughter, a face full of admiration. He returned a helpless smile.
At that time, Xiao Jingrui and Yan Yujin walked over, Xiao Jingrui holding the hand of Tingsheng and Yan Yujin holding the hands of the other two children. The Empress’s nephew began asking when he was still a few steps away, “Su, are you sure about this? We’ve confirmed it just now—these three children really don’t know any martial arts.”
“That’s okay, who knows martial arts as soon as they’re born? Jingrui, I need to trouble you to notify the Marquess that these three children will be staying at the Snow Cottage as well.”
“That won’t be a problem.” Xiao Jingrui grasped Mei Changsu’s arm with concern, “But Su, let me challenge him first in two days. I feel that…”
“All right now,” Mei Changsu patted his hand assuringly, “Don’t worry. Although I cannot practise martial arts myself, I can still train people.”
“If Su says he can do it, then he’ll definitely be able to do it. You should stop frowning so much.” Yan Yujin chuckled, “You’re not as handsome as me normally, and you’re even less handsome when you frown.”
Everyone laughed together, and their mood lightened. Still, the three children hung their heads and cowered back, looking very anxious. Mei Changsu knew that it would be impossible for them to completely relax so quickly, so he did not rush to talk with them. He only made a slight gesture for the three to follow him, and walked with the Princess until they’ve exited the Royal Palace. Nihuang saw that her younger brother, who had left first, was already standing dutifully waiting for her. Mei Changsu was with friends, so he probably wouldn’t need the Mu carriage to send him back. Hence, she did not stay behind, and left after saying her farewells. The carriages of the Marquess of Ning and the Yan households were both driven over just then. Mei Changsu brought the children into the carriage with him. He still did not make any inquiries during their ride, and only lifted the curtains for the children to see the scenery of the streets outside. Xiao Jingrui, who was riding in the same carriage, gazed at Tingsheng’s profile and thought back to when he first met the boy. He gradually began to understand, and turned around involuntarily to give Mei Changsu a look.
Facing this pair of inquiring eyes, the Chief of the East River Alliance gave a light smile and nodded.
Even though Mei Changsu had solemnly promised that he would train these three children in earnest, everyone who came to check on the situation in the next two days discovered that he was actually extremely leisurely and at ease. Besides drawing some strange lines on the ground in the courtyard and instructing the children to practise stepping on them, he lounged on the long chair beneath the tree almost all day long. The person who was working hard, what with demonstrating movements and jumping around, was actually Feiliu.
Even still, all visitors were only allowed to take a few glances at the entrance of the courtyard before they were rushed out due to “necessary confidentiality of secret techniques”. This added a feeling of mystery around the whole training process. Only Xiao Jingrui was a bit special, and was reluctantly allowed to come in to sit for a bit.
Still, as time went on, people began to have some different opinions. The next night, when the young master Mr. Xiao entered the Snow Cottage again to visit and inquire for the others, he found with surprise that the children’s speed had clearly increased exponentially.
“They’ve only really practised for a day and a half since yesterday afternoon, and yet they’ve improved so quickly. I must focus in order to see their movements clearly now!”
“Even though these children are thin and frail, their perseverance, willpower, and concentration surpass regular adults by far. They should not be underestimated.” Mei Changsu used hand signals to direct Feiliu in correcting the trainees’ footwork, and continued casually, “But regardless of how great their aptitudes are, it’s still impossible for them to practise anything substantial within two days.”
“What?” exclaimed Xiao Jingrui, astonished, “Then you mean…”
“Hey, don’t worry,” said Mei Changsu with a slight smile. “Of course it’s rather crazy to rely only on these children to strike down Baili Qi. This set of footwork and the complimenting sword formation are really the only two things that can genuinely produce an outcome.”
“But… But…” Xiao Jingrui became even more anxious, “But regardless of how excellent the teamwork and footwork, it’s impossible to execute its effectiveness without the corresponding physical power! Baili Qi possesses very solid inner energy. Even if he were to stand still and take a few hits, these children would be able to make a scratch on him.”
“Jingrui,” Mei Changsu looked at him with warm eyes, “You’ve practised martial arts for many years. Don’t you know what using your opponent’s power against them is?”
“Using your opponent’s power against them requires hand techniques to guide its intricacies. These children don’t know any combat techniques at all!”
“They won’t be able to master hand techniques right now of course, but you’ll learn about its profundity once you see the synergy of this set of sword techniques. Besides, the stronger and harder Baili Qi is, the more delicate and brittle his weak point will be. I already know where his Achilles’ heel is, else I wouldn’t dare to make such grand statements before the Emperor. What, you don’t believe in me?”
Xiao Jingrui froze for a bit, then said hastily, “Of course I do. I dare not make little of Su’s vast knowledge. I’m only worried that if…”
“Don’t worry. Even though this is fun, I wouldn’t play along if there’s really a risk.” Mei Changsu continued lightly, “If you delay me a little more, my assurance will drop a little too.”
Xiao Jingrui panicked and said immediately, “Continue with your work, Su. I’m leaving right now.” He backed out of the courtyard right after he finished.
Mei Changsu watched his figure disappear into the distance. Only then did a strange expression flash in his eyes. He mumbled to himself, “As expected, it’s hard to deceive an honest child… Is because you are steadfast and avoid shortcuts? You know that the more embellished and profound a thing appears, the more unreliable it actually is.”
Feiliu heard him speak and immediately shot over. He stared at Mei Changsu with big eyes.
“No no, I wasn’t talking with our Feiliu.” Mei Changsu smiled warmly and smoothed the youth’s hair. “Feiliu has worked hard. They still need to be even more familiar with their training. They need to be able to dazzle everyone’s eyes. Only then will Su be able to fool everyone.”
“Too slow! Fast!” Feiliu nodded firmly.
“That’s right,” encouraged Mei Changsu, “They’re too slow now. They need to be faster.”
Feiliu turned away immediately and focused on his task of training the three children’s movements. Mei Changsu relaxed his waist and leaned back. His gaze was still directed at the courtyard, but his mind had begun to wander off. After some unknown time had passed, he was roused by a word from Feiliu.
“Uncle!” exclaimed Feiliu angrily, standing in the middle of the courtyard. Because of his sudden halt, the three children remained in their places, afraid to move. None of them knew what was going on, and stood frozen.
Mei Changsu had just regained his bearings, and it actually took a while before he understood Feiliu’s meaning. He then quickly said, “You’ve already practised for so long today. It’s rather late. Feiliu, bring your little brothers to the west bedroom to sleep and don’t come out again, okay?”
“Yes, sleep. You have to wake up early tomorrow to practise. There’s a good child.”
Feiliu looked at the main room, then tilted his head to ponder for a moment. It seemed that being a good child was more important, so he took his three little disciples into the west bedroom and quickly closed the door and windows.
Mei Changsu stood up slowly and entered the main room where he usually resided. Just as Feiliu had said, Meng Zhi was already sitting at the table. He stood up immediately when he saw Mei Changsu enter.
“I’m a bit tired today. Help me close the window, Meng.” While Mei Changsu ordered the greatest warrior of Liang around, he climbed straight onto his warm bed and covered himself with a thick fur rug.
“Aren’t you relaxed.” Meng Zhi closed the window, then turned back and sat at the edge of the bed. He stared at Mei Changsu with seriousness, “Tell me the truth. What exactly do you want to do?”
“What are you asking about, Meng?”
“Don’t play dumb with me! I’m asking about the task you roped in yesterday. Although I’ve been cooperating with you the whole time, I’ve also observed Baili Qi’s abilities very carefully. It’s no doubt that being overly hard and thus easily breakable is his weakness, but not even you should be able to make three children strike him down.”
“You don’t believe it, Meng?” Mei Changsu gave a distant smile, “Just one more day, and the result will show. See for yourself then.”
Meng Zhi’s gaze bore into Mei Changsu’s face like red-hot coal. Finally, he let out a long breath, and his tense shoulders relaxed. He said in a low voice, “Just as I thought. Baili Qi is your subordinate…”
Mei Changsu rubbed his icy hands together. He raised them to his mouth and breathed on them. “Wrong guess. Baili Qi is not my subordinate. However, the person you see now is not the real Baili Qi, that’s all.”
“What’s going on here?”
“If I want to be tousling the clouds here in the royal capital in order to reach my objective, I need to first become an important person, of course. No matter how highly the Crown Prince and Prince Yu think of me, it can’t be compared to the appreciation of His Majesty the Emperor himself. So, the original intention for laying the groundwork of this plan was to put myself in the limelight and gain fame.” Mei Changsu’s eyes turned towards the west window, as if he wanted to see the little child in the west bedroom beyond the paper window. “Today, the plan is slightly altered for Tingsheng. It actually feels better and more natural. I suppose the heavens are aiding me.”
“From the sounds of it, you guys have already kidnapped the real Baili Qi while the Yan envoys were passing through the East River Alliance’s jurisdiction, and then you replaced him with an imposter?”
“Yes. Actually, regardless of how excellent the disguise, there will inevitably be flaws as time goes by. Only, Baili Qi had always remained within the Prince’s manor and was not seen often by others. He also possesses a rude temperament and an ugly appearance, so none of the envoys want to look at him closely. In addition, the person disguised as him is very detailed and careful, so no flaws have been shown over these days.”
“Then then Yan’s strategy this time to first keep a low profile and then show off…”
“That was the decision they made before they had departed, to first have Baili Qi hide his abilities and then make a sudden show of an astonishing warrior. Our man simply went with the flow and acted in complete accordance with their plan, thus avoiding suspicion.” Mei Changsu continued airily, “I was just talking about using your opponent’s force against them with someone. If the opponent remains completely still, it’ll actually be harder for us to make a move.”
Meng Zhi nodded thoughtfully, already grasping most of the situation. What he had observed was the rudimentary steps in training. In combination with his skills in martial arts, he can, of course, see immediately that the set of footwork and sword technique have rather low damage. Yet at the same time, they have a very apparent ability once they are fully learned—the ability to create errors and chaos in one’s vision. Once someone’s body movements and attack process are unable to be seen clearly, almost everyone will instinctively believe that it must be a style of exceedingly superb martial arts with astonishing damage. What the three children need to do then is to render people incapable of seeing their movements and attacks clearly. That way, when Baili Qi falls down, everyone will think that he had been struck down by the martial arts that was spectacular to the point of unidentifiable.
“It’s still rather dangerous to have the children fight. Jindiao Chaiming and the Princess are top tier fighters. Their observation skills can’t be bad. However, for Tingsheng, I suppose this is the only way.” Meng Zhi sighed, “I’ll come take a look again tomorrow night. It’ll be great if they are well-versed in their movements. If there are still flaws, we’ll need to think of something else.”
“Then I’ll thank you in advance.” Mei Changsu smiled and breathed on his fingers for the second time.
“Are you still cold even with the fur rug?” Meng Zhi took Mei Changsu’s hands into his own, and discovered them to be freezing cold. He massaged them to warm them up, and his heart clenched, “It’s not even winter solstice yet and you’re already like this… You were never afraid of the cold before. I’ve even heard Prince Jing joke about that before, saying the young commander of the Red Flame Army is just like a little fireball. On a snowy night, you could throw on a thin armor, ride alone after the enemy for hundreds of kilometres, and return to camp after their capture with no hint of shivering…and yet look at you now. Your body’s damaged to such a degree…”
“All right,” said Mei Changsu. He retrieved his hands and pulled the fur rug up. His tone was very light, as if they melted in the wind as soon as they left his lips, “That’s why I don’t like meeting with you often. I’m already a completely different person from the past. You’ll only invoke sorrow if you compare us like this all the time. I don’t want to have any weakness in my emotions right now. So please…don’t talk about these things if you can avoid it in the future…”
Meng Zhi gazed at his face, which was as pale as snow. The eyes of such a manly person actually began to turn red. He suppressed them again and again, and finally said, “You’re right. I was being all mushy like some little girl.”
“Who would dare to call the greatest warrior of Liang a little girl?” Mei Changsu gave a smile to relieve his mood. “But take a look at Princess Nihuang. Even though she’s a woman, she doesn’t lose in any aspect to men.”
Meng Zhi gave a hearty laugh as well. He stood up and said, “That’s right. We need to be on our toes as well. We can’t have the Princess surpassing us.”
“Are you leaving, Meng?”
“Yeah. You should rest early as well. I’ll come again tomorrow. If there’s nothing important, I won’t show myself.”
Mei Changsu made a sound of approval. He was just about to get up to see Meng Zhi out, but was forcefully pressed back. Mei Changsu wasn’t a stickler for customs, so he smiled and did not insist further.
Sure enough, Meng Zhi did not show himself the next day. It seemed like the three children’s practise was satisfactory. After dinner, Mei Changsu emphasized a bit on some notable items. He soothed the children and told them not to worry the next day, then sent the children back to their rooms early.
However, the Snow Cottage did not maintain such tranquility. About two hours later, an unexpected visitor arrived late at night.