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Chapter 26: Late Night Visitor

            Strictly speaking, this person shouldn’t be termed a visitor, since the Snow Cottage Mei Changsu currently resides in is actually in her home. Only, she had never came for a visit during all this time.

Mei Changsu did not show his surprise. He gently coaxed Feiliu back into his room, who came out upon the commotion. He then gave a slight smile to Princess Liyang and bowed in greeting.

“The wind had risen. I’ve heard that you are unwell, Mr. Su. Let’s talk inside.” Princess Liyang wore a cool expression, but her tone was warm enough. She did not make any modest refusals when she saw Mei Changsu step aside to make way for her, and stepped indoors in the lead. With the warm air colliding into her, she untied the ribbons of her golden cloak.

She came quietly by herself, so there naturally weren’t any maids near her. Mei Changsu stepped forward to take the cloak she slipped out of and hung it nearby. He then brought a teapot from the firepit and poured a cup of hot tea for her.

Princess Liyang cupped the tea in her hands, but did not bring it to her mouth. She wrapped her palms around the cup’s edge, as if warming her hand. After a long while, she finally said, “Please accept my apologies for visiting at such a late time. It’s just that if I were to come earlier, I’m afraid…”

Seeing her choke halfway through her words, Mei Changsu gave a faint smile and took over the other half, “Your Highness is afraid that Jingrui would still be here if you came earlier? In that case, Your Highness have some instructions for me alone?”

Princess Liyang raised her head and looked at him. Su Zhe was a commoner, and a wide gulf existed between the ranks of him and the Emperor’s sister. The word “instructions” wasn’t spoken only out of politeness. However, the many different lights shone on this man were dazzling, making it impossible for one to determine his proper identity.

The chief of the world’s biggest clan, the respected good friend of the finest noble gentlemen in the capital, the master of a guard that can compete with the greatest warrior of Liang, the target of the Crown Prince and Prince Yu’s desperate recruitment attempts, a man in high favour and in an ambiguously affectionate relationship with Princess Nihuang… Combining all of these bits and pieces together, it’s impossible for even the noble Princess Liyang to see him as a mere commoner.

And yet it is because she knows that he is definitely not a common man, and that he must have unmeasurable powers, that the reclusive princess came to this humble guest lodging, alone and in the depth of night.

“Regardless of what words you have for me, since you are here already, they must be spoken eventually. There is no need to hesitate, Your Highness.” Mei Changsu had already gathered up the visitor’s expression with a sweep of his eyes and continued slowly, “I will naturally accept Your Highness’s instructions if it falls within my range of abilities. If it is something I am incapable of completing, I will not speak more than I should, nor spread gossip. Please rest assured, Your Highness.”

Princess Liyang’s gaze fixated slightly, as if she had mentally came to a decision. The cup in her palms had unknowingly been placed on the table at some point. She raised her head and looked straight into Mei Changsu’s eyes. She said, pausing at each word, “Mr. Su. Please save Nihuang.”

Upon hearing such a request, even someone with such a steady mental state as Mei Changsu could not conceal a flash of surprise in his expression. “What do you mean, Your Highness?”

“I’ve heard that Nihuang thinks highly of you, Mr. Su. I presume there must be affection between you two.” Princess Liyang raised her hand to stop Mei Changsu, who looked as if he wanted to clarify the statement, indicating for him to allow her to finish. “Though Nihuang is smart, she spends the majority of her time within her principality after all. She does not understand how deep and murky the waters of the capital are. She counts on the noble and powerful status of Yunnan, as well as herself being a top fighter amongst top fighters, and holds a playful attitude towards this tournament for her husband. She strongly believes that everything is within her control, and is thus rather careless.”

“From the sounds of Your Highness’s words, could it be that someone would actually dare to conspire against the Princess?”

“In order for the people in the capital to reach their objectives, is there anything they wouldn’t dare to do?” Princess Liyang thought of something, and her eyes revealed a hint of pain. “As one single person, Nihuang represents the entire stance of the Manor of the Prince of Yunnan, and represents the military power of the ten thousand cavalries at the southern border. Isn’t that importance worth it for someone to risk conspiring for?”

Mei Changsu raised his brows lightly and slowly nodded. Of course he had paid considerable measure to Princess Nihuang’s importance. That is why he had always wanted to find a way for her to completely support Prince Jing. Other people wouldn’t let go of this chance either, of course. However… Going by Princess Nihuang’s current powers and her adamant personality, who would dare to seize her might? And who would really be capable of reaching their objective through plots and conspiracies?

“I know what you are thinking of, Mr. Su.” Reading other people’s expressions isn’t a secret technique unique to East River. The princess who had grown up surrounded by crafty clouds and deceitful winds knows it as well. With one glance, a cool smile showed at the corner of her lips. “Nihuang is very strong indeed. Strong to the point where it seems unnecessary to protect her… But Mr. Su, you don’t understand. Regardless of how strong a woman is, she is still just a woman at the end of the day. Some things that are inconsequential to men are enough of a blow to destroy the will of a woman. If Nihuang already has someone she likes, this blow will be even stronger. It’ll make her feel that who she marries and what type of life she will lead in the future are all inconsequential…”

As she spoke, Princess Liyang’s expression was very calm, and her tone was very cool. However, her slowly reddening eyes and her stiff and colourless fingers atop the table betrayed her boiling emotions.

Mei Changsu turned his head, hiding the sympathy rising in his eyes.

He had no memory of the Princess Liyang of the past, who was bright and lively with a fiery nature, and who would compete with the princes whenever they went hunting. He only had memories of his mother’s quiet laments to herself when he complained to her about his Aunt Liyang being too cold and unapproachable.

How exactly the old incident occurred why it occurred were genuinely too secretive and too far in the distant past. Even though he had made deliberate investigations during these years, he was unable to find any valuable information. Perhaps the truth only exists hidden in the hearts of those few people, none of whom will say it out loud.

“Your Highness,” said Mei Changsu slowly after pondering deeply for awhile, “I acknowledge the logic of your words, but I still cannot imagine it. What exactly is the method that can create such an effect?”

The corners of Princess Liyang’s lips twitched slightly, as if she did not want to explain in details at all. However, she understood clearly that it would be impossible to gain his trust without revealing more details.

“His Majesty is privately very satisfied with two of the final ten candidates, and wish to pair them with the Princess. Do you know who they are?”

Mei Changsu, of course, shook his head immediately.

“Sima Lei, son of the Grand Marshal, and Liao Tingjie, son of the Marquess of Zhongsu.”

“Right.” Mei Changsu was not surprised by the answer. It just so happened that between these two people, the Sima family supports the Crown Prince and the Marquess of Zhongsu supports Prince Yu. It was rather balanced. Who knows if it was purposefully designed by the Emperor, or if it was a coincidence?

“But going by the current rules of the tournament, none of those two have any possibility of winning unless the Princess throw a game and lose deliberately.”

“Right,” nodded Mei Changsu again. Far more than those two. None of the ten could win.

“That’s why, some people are getting worried. The support of Mu family of Yunnan is far too attractive. However, if the matter cannot be finalized during the Princess’s short stay in the capital, it will require twice the effort for half the result when she returns to Yunnan.” Princess Liyang suddenly gave a cold laugh, “At a time like this, Nihuang’s personal wishes have long since been outside these people’s consideration. The people within the Palace are experts in underhanded tactics. Some people who have knowledge of old events will inevitably attempt to imitate the method used by the Empress Dowager in the past…”

At the mention of the Empress Dowager, Mei Changsu’s heart quivered again. That’s right. Thinking about it now, Princess Liyang had rarely visited her mother in his recollections, nor had he ever seen her speak with the Empress Dowager. Only, his life was overflowing with rich and vibrant matters then, and he had thus never paid any attention to this strange situation.

Princess Liyang closed her eyes for a moment, as if needing to calm herself. Because, what she was about to say next was the essential heart of the method.

“There is a type of wine in the Palace called ‘Coils of Passion’. It has the effect of inducing hallucination and sexual desire with just one cup. If a woman drinks it, she will mistake the man next to her as the person she dearly loves and longs for. Urged by the effects of the drug, she will take the initiative and beg to be embraced. She does not know about the existence of such a wine, so even when she sobers afterwards, she will believe that it was her weak will that led to her misconduct while being intoxicated. She furthermore cannot be angry at the man since she was the one who took the initiative. Ashamed and in despair, that feeling really is worse than death. But death had always been the most difficult affair throughout the ages. If she dies then, she will die without dignity. From then on, no matter how many unspoken words are hidden in her heart, it would be impossible for her to say them. If a trusted person comes forward then to advise her while she is feeling at loss, how could she have any energy to struggle or to refuse? She is only able to have others manipulate her as they wish…” Princess Liyang’s tone slowly changed as she reached towards the end of her speech. From her tragic sorrow, even the densest man would be able to see that what she spoke of was her own feelings, carved deep in her heart.

Mei Changsu stood up and walked slowly to the other end of the room. He turned his back towards her and averted his eyes, silently waiting for her to regain her calm.

About ten minutes later, Princess Liyang finally took in a deep breath and said slowly, “Please excuse me, Mr. Su. The woman who was framed in the past is a dear sister of mine, so I became a bit emotional. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Of course not, Your Highness. Something like this really makes one’s hair rise. Your Highness will inevitably feel angry and sympathetic even if it wasn’t your sister. Only, I do not quite understand. Who was the recipient of Your Highness…’s sister love, that the Empress Dowager would be so opposed to the point of…”

Princess Liyang gazed into the distance, as if crossing through time to fall upon that certain point far away, “He was…a hostage prince…sent to Liang from the Southern Chu empire…”

Mei Changsu’s confusions cleared immediately, and he couldn’t bear to ask further.

“Although Nihuang is not related to me by blood, her dazzling spirit reminds me of the past. It makes me admire her.” Princess Liyang seemed to have finally overcome the peak of her pain, and her expression slowly calmed. “If someone plans to use such underhanded tactics against her, I must prevent it no matter what. I hope you will assist me, Mr. Su.”

Mei Changsu’s eyes flickered. He paused, then finally ended up asking anyway, “How did Your Highness…came to learn about this conspiracy?”

Even though Princess Liyang knew that he would pose such a question, she still couldn’t prevent turning her head to avoid the gaze that was not actually intense. Finally, she answered softly, “Xie Bi, that child. He wants to be involved, but his heart is not hard enough. I saw him ill at ease, and forced the truth out of him after questioning…”

“Ah.” Mei Changsu nodded and asked the next question, “With Your Highness’s status, there must be many ways to prevent this. Why did you decide to choose me?”

Princess Liyang gave a mocking laugh and responded coldly, “Many ways? I doubt it. The event has not transpired. Should I question the mastermind? They will not admit to it. Should I report it to His Majesty the Emperor? I have no evidence to back my empty words. I would enter the Palace myself to prevent it, but who knows when they will make their move? What can this status of a princess actually achieve during such a time?”

Mei Changsu pondered for a moment. He wanted to ask her why she didn’t ask her own husband for help, but he suddenly realized that this method was the same as the one in the past. Even if Xie Yu was not a co-conspirator then and was simply used by the Empress Dowager, he was still a benefactor at the end of the day. It would be rather awkward to discuss it with him. Besides, one would certainly offend the mastermind if one were to actually help prevent the event from occurring. Xie Yu was not a hot-blooded youth. He wouldn’t necessarily agree to help.

To think about it, the noble princess really had nobody to ask for help. It really does make one sigh in pity. However…

“Your Highness, even if I had the desire to help, I’m afraid that my hands are rather tied as a mere commoner…”

“Don’t you have close ties with Princess Nihuang? Besides, you will see her tomorrow. Please give this information to her then and tell her to be careful when dealing with the ladies in the Palace. That should guarantee her safety.”

“Why don’t you tell her yourself, Your Highness?”

“I have always been cold and reserved. Even though I’ve always admired Nihuang in private, I do not have close ties with her. She may not believe me. More importantly, they already know that I’ve discovered this conspiracy. As soon as I enter the Palace, there will definitely be a lady to accompany me by my side. I won’t have an opportunity to speak in detail with Nihuang privately… Luckily, you reside within this manor, Mr. Su. I still have some powers here. I believe that I can conceal this late night visit from those people. Only, I must trouble you, Mr. Su.”

Mei Changsu looked at her thoughtfully. He spoke meaningfully, “I do not have close ties with Your Highness. It really is my honour to be the recipient of such deep trust.”

The clever Princess Liyang understood. She smiled lightly, “It is rather presumptuous of me to visit so suddenly. But firstly, I really don’t have anyone else to ask for help. Secondly, I know that you have close ties with Nihuang. Thirdly… Jingrui always praises you endlessly before me. This child has a pure heart, so the person he likes and respects should not be a common man. However, I have considered it before coming here. This may implicate you in offending nobility, so it is understandable for you to refuse my request. Please consider it carefully.”

After saying that, Princess Liyang lowered her head and began to drink her tea in silence. Mei Changsu stared at the few inconspicuous strands of white woven in her head of black hair. He suddenly felt a slight pang in his heart, and a feeling of aloofness rose.

“It is late. You should return, Your Highness.” The drums striking the time sounded from outside the window. Mei Changsu retrieved the golden cloak from the hanger and gently draped them over her frail shoulders. He spoke slowly, “The Princess is my friend. I will most certainly put in my fullest efforts. I must ask for Your Highness to enter the Palace as well tomorrow, in order to act accordingly to any change in circumstance.”

Princess Liyang did not speak any further after gaining his promise. She raised the hood of her cloak over her head and quietly exited the little courtyard. She disappeared into the darkness in no short time.

Mei Changsu stood before the steps and saw her out with his eyes. The night wind rushed at him, injecting coldness all over his body. A pair of hands grabbed him from behind and forcefully pulled him inside. He turned around and saw a pair of bright eyes with a hint of anger in them.

“Sorry, sorry, Su forgot to wear his jacket.” He patted the youth’s head to comfort him. “Our Feiliu still hasn’t fallen asleep?”

“She leave. Wake!”

“Ah, she woke you up?” Mei Changsu smiled apologetically. He curled up on the warm bed and gathered the thick cotton blanket around him. “Go back to sleep, then. Don’t you have to go out to play tomorrow?”

“You sleep!”

“Okay, okay, I’ll sleep too.” Mei Changsu closed his eyes obediently. He appeared calm and peaceful, but he recalled old and new information on all aspects of the capital like running water in his head. He used them to determine what exactly was hidden behind the purpose of Princess Liyang’s visit.

Feiliu did not return to his room. Instead, he squeezed next to his Su and snored away, satisfied.

Mei Changsu tucked him in and slowly laid his body flat. Just before he fell into the world of dreams, he was still thinking about a final question: “The Crown Prince’s spy who had concealed himself near Prince Yu… Who exactly is he?”

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