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Chapter 36: Wounds of the Past August 8, 2017star-shadows

Xia Dong’s gaze lingered on Mei Changsu’s pale complexion, and only lowered after a long moment.  Before she had arrived at the residence of the Marquis of Ning today, she had wondered what kind of a person this Su Zhe was, but now that she had finally met him, she realized that he was even deeper and more profound than she had imagined from the rumors.

“Since Mister Su has such leisure, Xia Dong is of course happy to listen.”

Mei Changsu nodded in her direction, then turned his head, turning his gaze away from his only audience and towards the twilight-lit sky outside, and began to speak at a steady pace, neither too quickly nor too slowly.  “Once, in a certain kingdom, at a certain time, there was a mighty lord, who guarded the kingdom’s border with his army, and who was much favoured by the Emperor, and trusted beyond measure.  One year, the daughter of this lord entered the capital, and the little princess1 stayed at the palace, where she came to know many of the children of the royal family and relations.  One of these children was the only son of the great general of the court, who was her elder by two years, a lively and mischievous boy, proud and willful, and the two spent much of their time together.  The Grand Empress Dowager saw the two innocent playmates together, and decided to arrange for their marriage.  Although there was no deep friendship between the lord and the general, the match was an appropriate one, and neither families objected.  Who could have guessed that, a year after the engagement, the great general was involved in a rebellion, and both father and son lost their lives.  Although the lord was far away at the border and had had nothing to do with the case, he could not avoid being implicated due to the ties between the two families.  The Emperor began to grow suspicious of him, and in all matters whether military or otherwise, no longer treated him as freely as before, and two years of this wearing and tearing began to affect his military strength.  It was at this time that the neighboring kingdoms suddenly launched a furious attack on the border, and the lord lost the first battle, and lost his life in the second, leaving behind his orphaned daughter and young son, his army without their general, and a grief of unfathomable depths in all their hearts.  At that time, reinforcements had not yet arrived in the south, and the situation was growing desperate, when the seventeen-year-old little princess rose up and went to battle in her mourning clothes, leading the army in her father’s stead, and after a blood-soaked and hard-fought struggle, managed to secure the kingdom’s border.  Officer Xia, wouldn’t you say this little princess is truly an extraordinary lady of our age?”

Xia Dong’s eyes were hidden as she sighed without speaking.  It was as if she had been transported back to the day she had arrived in the south with the reinforcement troops, and seen on the city wall this young lady, dressed all in white2, her face full of unswerving determination.  Although she was ten years her senior, although she had ample experience and knowledge of worldly affairs from her years in the Xuanjing Bureau, after going through those days of hardship and perils together, she only had two words to describe her feelings for the strength of this young lady: deepest respect.  Were it not for the barrier of blood and betrayal between them, the friendship between Xuanjing Officer Xia Dong and Princess Nihuang would have undoubtedly been every bit as strong as the life-and-death brotherhoods often forged between young men.

Mei Changsu only briefly glanced at her expression, and then went on, “The danger had been averted for the time being, but the situation was far from stable.  The princess had established her authority with one battle, and the soldiers of the border army knelt to her without exception.  The court could not find anyone better suited to the position, and so allowed her to retain the temporary post of commander of the border army.  Over the next ten years, as she faced countless dangers alone, people only saw the brilliant power and influence she commanded from her loyal army, while no one noticed the suffering and pressure she kept within her heart.  Most do not even know that, just two years ago, she once again came face to face with a dangerous situation from which there was almost no escape.”

At this point, Xia Dong was visibly horrified.  “Why have I never heard of such an event?”

Mei Changsu’s calm gaze did not waver, as he continued in his steady tone, “The Princess and her generals and troops are skilled in field battles, excelling in both defense and offense, and are bold and powerful masters of the art of warfare, but they have one weakness, and that is battles fought over water.”

Xia Dong was fairly familiar with the Yunnan army, and couldn’t help nodding in agreement.

“The danger at the time was because a certain master in a neighbouring country had designed a particularly ruthless battle over water.  First, they launched a surprise attack and took control of the mouth of the river, and then, using the largest warship as their base of attack, the smaller warships as their attack force, and the river as the road for their supply chain, their vast navy charged up the river to attack the inland.  Although it was a dangerous gamble, it had the desired effect.  If the Princess put her whole strength into attacking the mouth of the river, the enemy’s navy would be free to wreck havoc on the inland, but if she met the enemy head-on on the water, she would be fighting the enemy’s strength with her weakness, and despite the fact that there was no lack of talented generals in her army at the time, none could devise a plan to defeat the enemy.  As the sole commander, one can only imagine the worry in the Princess’ heart at that time.”  At this point, he coughed a few times, and stopped to take a sip of tea.

“What happened next?”  Xia Dong was listening intently, and seeing him pause, couldn’t help herself.

“Just when the situation seemed hopeless, a young man appeared in the camp, claiming to be an expert in water battles, and begged for an audience with the Princess to share his expertise.  The Princess is an insightful and perceptive judge of character, and she made an exception for him.  It turned out that this person had not exaggerated in the least, and was truly a water battle prodigy.  After half a month of careful planning, he entered the battle himself and defeated the enemy in one blow.  Afterwards, when she was writing her report to the palace, the Princess wanted to give him the credit and ensure he received the deserved honour and rewards, but for some unknown reason, the person firmly refused to allow the Princess to put down his name on the report.”

“Oh?”  Xia Dong was surprised.  “He wasn’t interested in the rewards of his work?  That’s strange indeed.”

“Perhaps this person was not interested in advancing into the court.”  Mei Changsu said dismissively, and then continued, “For the next half year, this young man stayed in the Princess’ camp, and re-designed the training of her navy to compensate for their prior weakness.  This person had a bright nature, was handsome and righteous, and was also extremely charming, and the two were of similar age, and so, as the days went by, they naturally developed feelings towards one another, but unfortunately the time was not right, and they did not express their feelings to each other, which was a pity indeed.”

At this point, Xia Dong thought a moment, and suddenly became furious.  Since they had both developed feelings, then the Princess’ open competition for her hand in marriage was the perfect opportunity for the Princess to have her wish granted, but this person had not appeared, how heartless and ungrateful of him!  Xia Dong had always been inclined to fight in the face of injustice, and since this matter was about the Princess, how could she not be angry?  She immediately stood and said with a tight expression, “Who is this person?  Where is he now?”

Mei Changsu did not directly answer her question, but only lowered his head, and continued to tell the story at a steady pace, speaking in a voice that grew lower and lower.  “One day, half a year later, the young man suddenly disappeared without a farewell, leaving behind only a letter addressed to the Princess, on which was written: “The Alliance summons me back; I obey and return.”  The Princess was furious that he had left in such a way and tore up the letter, giving orders that he was not to be followed.  But her brother couldn’t bear it and sent highly-skilled men to follow him all the way back, but after entering Tu province, the young man disappeared without a trace, not leaving behind even the slightest hint of where he had gone.”

Xia Dong, being clever and perceptive, immediately grasped the key point.  “Tu province is in Jiangzuo territory, and in the fourteen provinces controlled by Jiangzuo Alliance, when has there ever been another sect?”

Mei Changsu neither confirmed nor denied her words, but kept speaking.  “Another year passed, and the Mu household had still not been able to find a single hint of news about this young man.  Although the Princess was silent on the matter, everyone in her household felt this person had behaved coldly and unkindly, and couldn’t understand the matter at all.  At this time, the Princess’ younger brother came of age and they had returned to the capital for his inheritance ceremonies, when the court decided to have an open competition to choose the Princess’ husband, and asked her opinion on the matter.  Everyone thought that, with the Princess’ pride, she would never consent to such a public method, and never expected her to agree after setting a few conditions of her own.”

Xia Dong’s emotions were stirred, and sorrow filled her heart as she let out a sigh, saying with a lonely expression, “Women’s infatuation is stronger than men’s.  Although she gave no outward sign of it, in her heart, she must have been hoping that the young man would take this chance to come forward….”

Mei Changsu did not answer, but there was a bleak expression on his face.  Up until this point, the story was only half over, but who could know in what direction the rest of it would go?

The clouds at the edge of the sky had sunk lower and lower; the solstice was not far away, and wind and snow were rising with the night.  Xia Dong put down her teacup, stood up, and strode to the edge of the pavilion, looking out.  Against the sky full of dark shadows, her tall figure appeared tough and vigorous, and there was no expression on her handsome face, which appeared now to be in deep thought, and now to be simply breathing steadily and not thinking at all.  But the calm before the storm never lasts for long, and a moment later, she drew in a deep breath, then turned and strode back towards Mei Changsu, a fiery gaze in her eyes as she said in a furious voice, “Since you know this story, then tell me, since they both loved each other, why didn’t he come?!”

“Why didn’t he come?”  Mei Changsu gave her a distressed smile, his face pale as snow, then slowly closed his eyes, murmuring as if to himself, “You ask me this…but me…how can I ask him?”

Since they both loved each other, why didn’t he come?  Why didn’t he come?

Because another person, who had long since fallen into hell, still walked on this earth, and so, he could only struggle in pain and suffer his torment in silence.

To that young man, the love between man and woman was as beautiful as pure water, but the friendship between brothers, how was that not also as precious as gold or jade?  Even the most carefree, innocent person in the world would not betray that brotherhood, nor wish to bring the slightest shame to a friend.

But love has never been something that can be hidden or avoided, and though on the surface, the young man talked and laughed as cheerfully as before, he could not hide the hurt and grief within his heart.  Just as, when the Princess first saw himself, the chief of Jiangzuo Alliance, that day at Yingfeng House, and countless painful questions rose to the tip of her tongue, the strong, calm mask had slipped for a moment, and revealed the turmoil of the emotions beneath.

When he had first sent the young man to help Nihuang, he had indeed not foreseen such an outcome, but now that he was faced with these two hearts as clear and true as snow, how could he let the old wishes and memories of his own heart stand as a barrier between them?  Lin Shu’s fate had long since been filled with trouble and misfortune, and for the sake of a marriage agreement made in their youth, he had already brought Nihuang many years of grief; now, with his frail and weak body, his fragile lifespan, and a future full of hardship, he no longer had even the slightest energy left to spare on rekindling a childhood passion….

And therefore, the reason he had waited and prepared for Xia Dong’s arrival today, was for this matter of the heart.

“Officer Xia.” When Mei Changsu opened his eyes again, there was only peace and warmth in his gaze.  He gently turned to look at Xia Dong, his voice steady and serene.  “I do not know the Princess well, so am not at convenience to say some things, and the reason I have waited for you here today and told you this story is because I would ask you to carry a message for me:  although the Princess has hesitated all this time and has not asked me directly, I know the questions in her heart.  That young man is indeed in my Jiangzuo Alliance, and previously, I was not clear about the wishes of the Princess, and was afraid to cause a misunderstanding, and so did not question him closely.  But now that I have known the Princess for a time, I have come to understand what I must understand.  Please ask the Princess not to worry, the wishes of this person’s heart have certainly not faded in the least compared to her own, and it is only that he is currently held under certain responsibilities, and cannot enter the capital at present.  If the Princess trusts me, please allow him a little more time, as a thanks to me.”

After hearing this, Xia Dong did not react immediately, but thought for a long moment, and then asked frowning, “Gentlemen should be more straightforward, if he loves her, he loves her, and if he does not, then he does not.  What incredible responsibilities must he have, that he cannot come to Jinling even for a few days?”

Mei Changsu did not explain further, but only said quietly, “The lives of those in jianghu do not belong to themselves, pray Officer Xia forgive us.”

Xia Dong scoffed, but continued, “Since this matter concerns the Princess, and you have related it all so plainly, it is no trouble for me to pass along your message.  But you must also tell that fellow, when I see him in the future, I will not let him go so easily.”

Mei Changsu smiled.  “The Princess is fortunate to have such a good friend as Officer Xia.”

At his words, Xia Dong’s face suddenly became like ice, and she replied coldly, “She is not my friend now, only once she marries will I claim her as a friend.”

“Really?”  Mei Changsu seemed not to care much about her words, continuing indifferently, “Is it because of her engagement from all those years ago?  As long as the Princess does not marry, then she is still of the Lin family3.  And to Officer Xia, isn’t anyone from the Lin family your sworn enemy under heaven?”

He spoke the words carelessly, but Xia Dong’s whole body stiffened, and her eyelashes trembled violently.  She was not surprised that Mei Changsu knew about this, because although this old case had been purposefully diluted by the court over the years, it was nonetheless a matter that had involved tens of thousands of people, and with Jiangzuo Alliance’s power, it could be easily uncovered with some careful searching.  What had shocked her were her own feelings upon hearing those words, the flow of uncontrollable emotions that had welled up in her heart.

Despite the fact that more than twelve years had gone by, despite the fact that she no longer woke from nightmares shaking and in tears, all these years of training herself into calmness had not brought about a shred of true closure.  This refined scholar had only mentioned these two words – “Lin family” – and the bleeding pain and bone-deep hatred had been rekindled within her heart, like the strip of white in the sea of raven-black hair, forever bright and unable to remain hidden no matter where she went.

Mei Changsu turned his gaze away from Xia Dong, as if he couldn’t stand to see the fragile expression that had appeared on her face.  As a Xuanjing officer, Xia Dong was naturally the strongest among the strong, but when you removed her sturdy mask, she was still one of the thousands of grieving victims who had been left behind by the tragedy.

He remembered Xia Dong as she had been when she was newly-married, fresh with youth and beauty, full of vitality, who had removed her wedding veil and immediately abandoned etiquette, leaving her bridal chamber to find her husband and drink his toasts in his place4.  The couple stood under the light of the bright red5 candles, one a general of the Chiyan Army, one a distinguished apprentice of the Xuanjing Bureau, the hall filled with the laughter and blessings of her seniors and the warm congratulations of his brothers in the army.  This joy and blessing should have lasted much longer, but seven years of love had turned to ashes overnight.  It was as if he could see in the distance the reluctant parting of these two persons, and then turning around, there she stood, a widow of twelve years.

Fortunately, she was Xia Dong, and the responsibilities and steadfast devotion of her position as a Xuanjing officer helped her overcome those days, and she never showed her grief or pain in front of her brothers and seniors in the bureau;  unfortunately, she was Xia Dong, and in the confusion of the days that followed, everyone was reassured by her strength, until the day they saw the whiteness on her forehead and the ice in her gaze, and realized the depth of the anger and sorrow in her heart.

Perhaps only Princess Nihuang understood a bit of Xia Dong’s emotions.  The young girl who had been forced to grow up all at once, who had been the proudest, strongest lady in the world, nonetheless patiently withstood all of Xia Dong’s insults and barbed words in the first days of their acquaintance, and after the two had fought shoulder to shoulder and developed a deep friendship, still quietly bore her cold promise: “As long as you do not wed, you are not my friend.”

But Mei Changsu knew, if anyone in this world were to mistreat Princess Nihuang, Xia Dong would be the first to step forward.  Whether she married or not, whether she was in name the daughter-in-law of the Lin family or not, she was still Xia Dong’s closest friend.

Because friendships forged in the fires of battle are the most enduring, unchanging bonds in the world.

“Mister Su,”  Xia Dong had taken her emotions under control again, and continued coldly, “Why did you come to the capital?

Mei Changsu answered with a smile, “What, Officer Xia has not even found this out?”

Xia Dong made a dismissive noise and said, “I know the saying about the qilin prodigy, and I know you harbour great ambitions and will soon choose your lord.  But what I don’t understand is, even if you participate in the fight between the Crown Prince and Prince Yu, you still do not need to investigate the matters of the past so carefully.”

Mei Changsu seemed not to notice her cold attitude, and continued smiling.  “Every moment of the present was formed from the events of the past; if one does not investigate and understand the past clearly, how can one know what should be done, and what should not be done?  No matter how many years have passed, the seeds that were sown will determine the fruit that is reaped.  Haven’t Xuanjing officers always striven for justice and fairness in their actions because of this belief?”

“The events of the past naturally have their significance, but I do not understand what they have to do with you.”  Xia Dong’s sharp glance pierced through Mei Changsu.  “Could it be that this old case of twelve years past can affect the Crown Prince and Prince Yu’s fights in the palace today?”

“As long as there is a connection, there will be some impact, no matter how small.   Unless Officer Xia believes they had nothing to do with the events of that year?”  Mei Changsu asked placidly in return.

The lady Xuanjing Officer murmured in reply, “Yes, I admit they added fuel to the fire, and hastened Prince Qi’s demise, but had it not been for Prince Qi’s own wild ambitions and rebellious conspiracies, and had the Chiyan Army not supported him in his tyranny and acted so despicably, there would also not have followed the natural consequences of their crimes.”

Mei Changsu’s face did not change, but his teeth were gritted, and after a long moment, he let out a sigh and said, “I suppose…this is the reason for the animosity between you and Prince Jing?”

Xia Dong stared at him and asked in a low voice, “What do you mean?”

“Officer Xia has never doubted the court’s verdict regarding the case of Prince Qi’s rebellion, but Prince Jing has argued for Prince Qi all along, and were it not for the Emperor’s decree for mercy and the investigation revealing that he only spoke out of brotherly love and was in no way involved in the rebellion, he would have long since been convicted along with the rest.  But even so, he has nonetheless been heavily stifled, and has not been raised to the rank of a Royal Prince6 despite more than a decade of successful field battles, so that neither the Crown Prince nor Prince Yu have paid him any mind at all.  The two of you hold opposing views, and whenever you see each other, if the matter is carelessly raised, it would be difficult to avoid conflict.  So you have both avoided meeting face to face whenever possible.”  Mei Changsu met Xia Dong’s gaze.  “Have I guessed correctly?”

Xia Dong gazed back at him steadily, now as if examining him closely, now as if she had no other intention, but did not deny it in the end, and answered calmly, “His Highness Prince Jing is a prince, and I will not provoke him if at all possible.  He chooses to ignore the truth, and is biased towards traitors, but His Majesty has already decided to be generous, so what can I do?”

Mei Changsu turned and filled her cup with hot tea, saying, “So according to Officer Xia, it must be Prince Jing who is wrong?”

“Of course it is Prince Jing who is wrong.”  Xia Dong’s gaze was hard as iron.  “Since Mister Su has purposefully investigated this old case, do you know who was responsible for the investigation of Prince Qi’s rebellion?”

Mei Changsu’s mouth tightened imperceptibly, but when he turned his head, his expression was once again serene as a cool breeze, and he said smiling, “Surely everyone knows this, it was the current Head Officer of the Xuanjing Bureau, your teacher-master, Head Officer Xia Jiang.”

Hearing the name ‘Xia Jiang’, Xia Dong’s gaze became respectful, and her tone took on a new confidence.  “Since Teacher began his work in the bureau, he has assisted His Majesty and investigated countless cases under imperial command, and has not made a single mistake to this day.  If Mister Su continues to speak of the case with doubt, I will consider it as disrespect towards my teacher.”

“I would not dare.”  Mei Changsu spread out his hands with a smile.  “Head Officer Xia has operated the Xuanjing Bureau with iron-like justice and is well-respected, how could someone such as I dare to doubt him?  It was only that as we spoke, we suddenly mentioned Prince Jing, and came to this point.  Pray Officer Xia, forgive me.”

“Mister Su is a scholar by birth, how have you come to be interested in Prince Jing, who has always kept far away from the palace and the court?”

Mei Changsu turned his gaze slightly, and he said, “I will not speak in riddles before Officer Xia.  Prince Jing is a highly skilled martial fighter, a good military leader, and is a prince with no threat to the crown – he is undoubtedly an asset to anyone who could recruit him, no?”

Xia Dong looked at him for a moment, and suddenly burst into laughter, laughing until tears ran down her face.

“What, have you found my words amusing?”

“Are they not?”  Xia Dong gently wiped away the tears in her eyes and sat upright again.  “Although you are the qilin prodigy and know everything there is to know under heaven, although you hold the world’s greatest sect in your palm, with countless eyes and ears under your command, you investigate and understand the things of the past, but you have not understood the heart within a person.”

“Was I wrong?  Prince Jing has been tightly suppressed by His Majesty, and his consort-mother has no special honour or favour in the palace, so even if he is not interested in glory and riches, for the sake of the future, he should put his skills to good use now and make a decision.  If he continues to watch from the sidelines, when the dust has settled, he will be of no use to anyone.”

Xia Dong laughed coldly.  “You are a strategist indeed, only caring about merits and drawbacks, and not paying attention to a person’s heart.  I do not dare to comment on anything else, but this I will say:  no matter whether you end up choosing the Crown Prince or Prince Yu as your lord, you will never be able to recruit Prince Jing into either of their camps.”

“Oh?”  Mei Changsu asked with a faint smile.  “Officer Xia is so certain?  Nothing is certain, the situation is always changing, and the hearts of men naturally change as well; Prince Jing has spent many years defeated and hopeless, perhaps he would not so easily let go of such a golden opportunity?”

The corner of Xia Dong’s mouth turned down and she turned her head, as if unwilling to continue the conversation.  Although she was angry at Prince Jing Xiao Jingyan’s stubbornness these many years, at least the love and devotion he bore for his eldest brother Prince Qi and his friend Lin Shu ran true and deep, and the fact that he had never thought to distance himself from them out of fear of being implicated in their crimes had allowed Xia Dong to retain a shred of respect for him, and so she disliked Mei Changsu’s cool analysis, and didn’t answer any further.

But Mei Changsu’s chest warmed when he saw her reaction.  Although he had spoken those words in order to mislead the Xuanjing officer, to allow her to believe that all his interactions with Prince Jing in the future would be out of strategic intent and thus not worth her attention, when he saw Xia Dong, who had stood so firmly against Prince Qi and the Lin family for all these years, refuse to condemn Prince Jing for any of his actions over the years, he couldn’t help feeling touched.

Xiao Jingyan had persisted resolutely and hidden his fury for twelve years, and even in the face of increasingly unfair treatment, he had refused to bend, to kneel in repentance for the stance he had taken all those years ago.  He was a military general of great prestige, and at his slightest expression of interest, both the Crown Prince and Prince Yu would have been delighted to take him under their wing; he was a grown prince with a formidable list of military merits, and if he were willing to lower his head and yield, the Emperor would not have hardened his heart for so many years and refused to reward him for his achievements.  But he had not done any of these seemingly simple things, but had silently accepted one imperial command after another, riding from battlefield to battlefield, and if he had any time to rest, he spent it either in his own mansion or in the military camp outside the city, far from the center of imperial power, and the only reason he had never been taken seriously by the court was because of this buried anger and resentment hidden within his heart.

But it was this Prince Jing Jingyan who had been the best friend of the Young Marshal of the Chiyan Army so many years ago, and it was this Prince Jing whom Mei Changsu was preparing to help to the throne today.

The peaceful, solemn gaze of the chief of Jiangzuo Alliance returned to the snowy twilight sky, stopping on the silver lining threading through a thick, dark cloud.  For Prince Jing, he had to gather all the power and strength he could find, and as he had already acquired the Yunnan Mu clan, next up was Xuanjing Officer Xia Dong.

The proud, smiling, Vanguard General of the Chiyan Army, Nie Feng, had been sent to his death by the cruel malice of his commander general; his entire troop had been surrounded, and afterwards, not even his bones had remained to be collected.  This conclusion was the thorn in the hearts of the surviving members of the Nie family, and was the source of Xia Dong’s hatred.  She had sent off a handsome young hero, and had received in return his fragmented remains and torn, bloody robes.  Although she had the fame of her teacher’s name, and the respect due to the status of a Xuanjing officer, how could this compare to the loneliness she felt, when she stood in front of his grave every Qingming7, when she looked in a mirror and did not see his shadow beside hers, when she turned and his shoulder was not there for her to lean on?  Such heart-rending pain, such bone-deep enmity, how could she not be angry, how could she not hate?

As long as this knot remained unresolved, the Xuanjing Bureau was forever the sworn enemy of the Lin family.  But the old case had long been concluded, and although the current Xuanjing Head Officer, Xia Jiang, had retreated to live in seclusion, he was still alive, and it would not be easy to bring up again this bloody matter of the past.

They could only take things one step at a time, and make their plans slowly and patiently.

“I heard Officer Xia was ambushed outside the capital?”  Mei Changsu smilingly changed the subject.  “Jingrui came back wounded that day, and scared everyone in the Marquis’ residence.  The Grand Princess ordered people to bring over doctors and medicine, and raised a great fuss….  Are your own wounds healing well?”

“What’s a few injuries to boys of his age?  The Grand Princess spoils her children too much.”  Xia Dong said dismissively, “My injuries were light, and healed long ago.  Thank you for your concern.”

“But even newly healed wounds will affect mobility.  Just now, our Fei Liu behaved without manners, pray forgive us.”

When Fei Liu was mentioned, a fervent gaze passed over Xia Dong’s eyes.  “Your bodyguard certainly lives up to his fame.  I accept my loss today wholeheartedly.  But tell him not to grow complacent, we Xuanjing officers don’t give up so easily, and I will certainly practice harder and return in the future to learn from him again.”

Mei Changsu smiled and did not answer, but was not worried in the slightest.  Because Fei Liu was simple by nature, he was single-minded in his pursuits, and practiced while he played, and treated practice itself as play.  In addition, his martial arts skills were the best among the best, and even if others gave twice the effort he gave, they would still find it difficult to keep pace with his efforts.

Xia Dong finished her tea and returned her cup to the table, then stood up, saying, “Thank you for your hospitality.  What you have asked me to do, I will certainly accomplish without fail.  What you wish to do in the future is your own concern.  But I will give you this warning: since you have the world in your hands, please understand the net of the law, and understand the imperial wishes.  Otherwise, I fear the Xuanjing Bureau would not be able to tolerate you.”

“I will take Officer Xia’s words to heart.”  Mei Changsu rose to see her out, and said with a smile, “Officer Xia has spoken so earnestly, how could I not return the favour?  So I, too, will speak a word of warning: the loyal may not be loyal, and the wicked may not be wicked;  a person of prestige and ranking in the palace, who yet understands the jianghu world and is able to command high level assassins without leaving a trace – how many such persons can there be?”

Xia Dong’s heart stopped, and she quickly turned her head, but only saw a peaceful expression on the other’s face, his gaze calm, as if his words a moment ago had only been idle chatter.  Under her questioning gaze, Mei Changsu did not show any intention of explaining further, but walked ahead to show her out.  His light “Officer Xia, take care” was sufficient to convey all the words he did not say.

Xia Dong had become an officer at age twenty, and had faced countless cases both trivial and important in her seventeen years as a Xuanjing officer, and so, just that one sentence had been enough of a hint towards the direction of her subsequent investigation, and to say anymore would have been redundant….

Fei Liu’s shadow flitted through the nearby trees and then appeared by Mei Changsu’s side, and although his face was expressionless, there was a look in his eyes that said he was glad the visitor was finally leaving.  Xia Dong turned, looking at his handsome, innocent face, and suddenly felt a wave of exhaustion overcome her heart.

The great case in her hands had not even been opened yet, and the tides of schemes and plots in the capital were already growing strong, threatening to sweep everything along in their wake, and made one feel not only helpless to resist, but inclined to hide.

Now, more than ever before, Xia Dong needed the steady reassurance of Nie Feng’s arm.

1as per fandom convention, I have been translating ‘lord’s daughter’ as ‘princess’ for Nihuang’s title, but it is in fact a different Chinese word to the one used for Jingning, who is a ‘king’s daughter’; I’ll write a post on it someday…

2white is the traditional colour of mourning in Chinese culture (as you would know from the show)

3she was only engaged to Lin Shu, but in Chinese tradition, the concept of belonging to your husband’s family after marriage (or, apparently, even after engagement) is a strong one

4according to the internet, ‘drinking someone’s toast for him/her’ (擋酒) is when you drink the toast meant for another person, in his or her stead; it’s done with a kind of ‘heroic’ air, and is done when someone is trying to get the other person drunk (so I assume there’s a teasing component to the whole thing).  as always, someone please correct me if I’m wrong.

5red is the colour of celebration in Chinese culture

6all the Emperor’s sons are ‘Princes’ from birth (wang zi – literally ‘Emperor’s son’), but must be raised to the honour or rank of ‘Royal Prince’ (qin wang – literally ‘close Prince’) based on merit and achievements (of which military achievements such as those Prince Jing has acquired should definitely count)

7the Chinese ‘ghost day’ if you will, or the day one pays respects to the dead

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