Chapter 4 (Modified Version)
Due to Princess Nihuang’s important status, the noble young men were taken aback at the Emperor’s decision to allow foreigners in this competition for her hand in marriage. Xiao Jingrui was the first to ask, “Didn’t the Emperor ask for Princess Nihuang’s opinion in this matter?”
Yan Yujin continued slowly, “Of course he did. The Princess agreed, since the heir to the Prince of Yunnan, Mu Qing, came of age last month and inherited the title. But, she did add several conditions. First, the competitor must be the person asking for her hand. Additionally, she’ll leave the literary tournament to His Majesty, but the top candidates in the martial arts tournament must compete with her. She will only marry if she loses to them.”
The two brothers breathed a sigh of relief after hearing this. Xie Bi said reproachfully, “Stupid Yujin, you were riling us up on purpose! This is much better. Most of the top fighters in Yu and Yan must be married, and thus won’t be eligible. I doubt there will be anyone with skills better than our Princess Nihuang in the small pool of unmarried men.”
“They don’t necessarily need better skills than her,” interjected Mei Changsu again. “If the Princess is interested in a candidate, she will naturally lose even if she is stronger.”
“I think so too,” said Yan Yujin smugly. “You all know that the Princess has always liked me best…”
Xie Bi spat out the tea he was drinking and coughed, “The…the Princess has always liked to yell at you best! A weirdo like you can give up hope. Princess Nihuang has been weathered from many battlefields. She can only like a man who is reliable and responsible.”
“Ahh,” sighed Yan Yujin. “Xie Bi, you’re so cruel, bursting my dreams like that…”
“Stop messing around already.” Xiao Jingrui gave Yan Yujin a shove and said, “But Yu and Yang must have come here with sweet dreams. I mean, they don’t lose much even if they fail, but if they succeed… Think about it, not only will the two empires be tied in marriage, they will also gain a military genius and a boost to their fame.”
Mei Changsu said mildly, “The Royal Courts of Yu and Yan have been shaky lately, no? Each have a few parties battling for the position of Crown Prince. If a Prince manages to marry Princess Nihuang now, it would be the same as securing the position of Crown Prince.”
“Su really got to the root of the matter there. Even though they know we wouldn’t marry Princess Nihuang to foreign land, they must still take this opportunity to compete. If they manage to win by some stroke of luck, it will guarantee victory back home.” Yan Yujin added with admiration, “I wonder who gave them this idea for them to summon their courage and come here.”
Mei Changsu looked at Yan Yujin with great interest and asked, “How are you certain that someone gave them this idea?”
Yan Yujin shrugged, “I don’t really like to analyze things. This is just my intuition speaking. Think about it, the two empires thought of this idea at the same time, and took action at about the same time. Isn’t that too much of a coincidence?”
“Who cares about coincidences, it’s all good as long as Princess Nihuang does not marry a foreigner.” Xie Bi waved his hand, and turned towards Mei Changsu. “Su, who do you think will win in this competition?”
Mei Changsu laughed in spite of himself. “I’m not a fortune-teller. How could I know?”
“You correctly guessed everything Yujin asked just now. I thought you could see the future!” Xie Bi laughed as well.
“All right, I’ll tell you the truth,” chuckled Mei Changsu. “I didn’t actually guess.”
“Didn’t guess?” Yan Yujin immediately became excited. “Does Su actually know the arts of fortune-telling?”
“How can a mere fool such as I untangle the intricacies of fortune?” Mei Changsu took out a roll of text from his sleeves as he spoke, “I did not guess. I actually knew of this matter long before. It says it all right here…”
Yan Yujin took the text with great curiosity. The three gathered around to read it, and cried out in astonishment.
“This is a letter by the hands of the Emperor of Yu, appointing his envoys to request a political marriage!” Xie Bi’s eyes bulged. “Why is it in your hands?”
“Ah, the restaurant in that town… The Yu envoys really lost their letter of credence.” Yan Yujin tilted his head and stared at Mei Changsu. “Su, were you really bored or something? Stealing their letter like that…”
“You’re right, I was really bored.” Mei Changsu still wore his light smile. “The Yu envoys happened to rest in the same inn as me. The owner of the inn told me they kept a long sandalwood box under close guard, which definitely contained treasures. I was curious, so I asked Feiliu to bring it to me. Who knew it was just an official letter? Since it had nothing to do with someone like me, I wasn’t really interested. I was intending to place it back, but they discovered the loss so quickly and made a scene. There was no choice, so I never ended up returning it…”
The three had all been witness to Feiliu’s amazing skills, so none were surprised to hear that he was the culprit. But really, this Mei Changsu is a bit too curious. Isn’t he afraid of getting into trouble by taking the letter of credence from envoys?
“Oh right, are there any requirements or limitations for the competition?” Xiao Jingrui returned the conversation to its original topic.
“Of course. He needs to be from a good family, of similar age, of handsome features, and unmarried…”
“Ah!” cried Xie Bi, “Then you can join too, brother!”
“Me?” Xiao Jingrui was startled. “I have great respect for Princess Nihuang, but I’ve never thought of…”
“Nobody’s asking you to be the final victor,” said Xie Bi, tugging on his sleeves. “The more men from Liang to compete, the better, since it will lessen the chance of a victor from Yu or Yan. Since you’re so outstanding, you will definitely eliminate many competitors. You can also filter out unqualified candidates for Princess Nihuang.”
“But what? My combat skills are lacking, so it’ll be useless even if I sign up. However, you’re the second son of Heaven’s Spring. Uncle Zhuo taught you martial arts personally, so you qualify as a great fighter at least. Su has gone to such lengths on our way back to give you pointers for your moves. Just think of it as gaining some battle experience.” Without further ado, Xie Bi turned to Yan Yujin and said, “Yujin, please sign him up tomorrow.”
“Oh, you don’t need to worry about it, I’ve already signed him up.” Yan Yujin grinned impishly.
“Oy… You two…”
“Don’t be nervous,” said Mei Changsu, suppressing his laughter, “I know your level in martial arts very well. It’ll be impossible to be the final victor, but what’s the harm in competing for a few rounds?”
“Are those words supposed to comfort me?” Xiao Jingrui felt like crying. “Am I fun to bully or something…?”
Xie Bi thought of another question, “The nobility of Jinling can’t be the only ones who know of this event, right? Can talented people from the common class join as well?”
“Of course they can.” Yan Yujin gave him a glance, “News like this can’t be hidden anyway. Besides, the Emperor wants to choose a good husband for the Princess, to reward her hardships on the battlefields. Haven’t you noticed all sorts of brilliant martial artists on your way to the capital?”
The three recalled carefully, and slowly realized that it was just as Yan Yujin had said. Since there always was an endless stream of people entering the capital, they haven’t paid much attention.
“All right, enough chatting with you guys.” Yan Yujin stood up and stretched. “I need to get a good rest so that in three days, I can exhibit my amazing skills, beat down all the brilliant martial artists, and win the maiden heart of Princess Nihuang…”
Xie Bi rolled his eyes. “This guy’s dreaming while he’s still awake…”
“It really is time to leave. Su needs to rest.” Xiao Jingrui added, “Feiliu has been asleep for a long time now.”
Everyone turned. Feiliu was lying on the bed still clothed, with the curtains still up. He was sleeping soundly.
“He still feels like a block of ice even when he’s aslee—” Yan Yujin began to comment when Feiliu’s eyes suddenly opened. Startled, he pointed at Xiao Jingrui. “He said that!”
Feiliu’s eyes stared off in the distance for a bit, then closed again.
“Don’t worry, he already knows your voices,” assured Mei Changsu. “If there was a stranger’s voice, Feiliu would wake up immediately.”
“Phew,” breathed Yan Yujin, patting his chest. “Then we will take our leave. Please rest early, Su.”
Mei Changsu rose to walk the others to the door and watched as the three left. The gong sounded for 9PM, and he stopped to listen. He stared out into the silent darkness of the manor for a long while, before slowly closing the door.