Although there were many things he had left unspoken, Mei Changsu was still exhausted by his conversation with Meng Zhi, and now he leaned weakly over his table, intending to rest for awhile.
When Fei Liu came in and saw him lying there motionless, he was greatly alarmed and was about to rush over for a closer look when Meng Zhi, who didn’t want him to wake Mei Changsu, reached out a hand to stop him, immediately raising the ire of the youth. His palm came flying over and Meng Zhi had no choice but to block it, and as the two exchanged several blows as quick as lightning, although the disruption was not great, the frail and lightly slumbering Mei Changsu was nonetheless jolted awake, and so he sat up again slowly.
“Su gege!” Fei Liu instantly forgot about Meng Zhi and leapt over to him, giving the commander of the imperial army a good scare.
Mei Changsu smiled at the youth and reached out a hand to accept the pear he had produced from his sleeve, then raised his gaze to Meng Zhi’s blank stare, and couldn’t help asking, “Meng dage¹, what’s wrong?”
Meng Zhi looked closely at Fei Liu for a moment, then said, “Although I wasn’t using my full strength and wouldn’t have hurt him, the fact that he can disappear from the middle of a fight with such smooth grace, without leaving any weakness I could exploit and without any disruption to his breathing pattern, this is something really stunning.”
Mei Changsu gave him a wicked grin. “Stunned, are you? Better watch out, or your rank as the first-ranked martial expert in Da Liang will sooner or later be taken by our Fei Liu.”
“It’s a bit early for that,” Meng Zhi laughed loudly with a heroic air. “I don’t dare underestimate this child, but neither will I fear him. It is also a great help to me to know that such a caliber of martial arts still exists in the world. But his fighting style looks strange and sinister, how can he have such a sunny internal disposition?”
“The method he initially trained was overly harmful to the body, and although he gained formidable power from being forced to learn it, it would have decreased his lifespan in the end. That’s why he has switched to practicing this ‘splendid-sun’ style of martial arts, which can help to dissolve the insidious poison of the energy he learned before,” Mei Changsu explained simply.
Although he had spoken casually, Meng Zhi knew that re-learning a whole new set of martial arts was no small matter and required destroying all the knowledge one had previously acquired, and understood that Fei Liu must have suffered a near fatal injury and fought his way back to life, and although he had not personally heard of the ‘splendid-sun’ style of martial arts, from the power of Fei Liu’s training, he could tell that it was a very high level technique, and wondered who had passed it on to Fei Liu. Such a mysterious martial style must be related to some unusual secrets of the jianghu world, but although he had an exceptionally close relationship with Mei Changsu, Meng Zhi did not think for a moment of inquiring any further, only pondering thoughtfully over what he had seen of Fei Liu’s fighting style and inner energy.
“Eat!” Although Fei Liu knew that the two were discussing himself, he showed not the slightest interest, and seeing that Su gege had only taken a bite of his pear and stopped, he shook his sleeve and urged him again.
Mei Changsu gave him a warm smile and lowered his head, slowly taking another bite. Meng Zhi saw him enjoying the pear and grinned at Fei Liu, teasing, “Hey, I’m a guest, won’t you give me one too?”
Fei Liu hesitated for a moment. He actually really did not like this big uncle whom he couldn’t seem to beat, but seeing the way Su gege treated him, he understood that this uncle was one of their own, and after thinking for a moment, he couldn’t see any way out, and so grumpily took out another pear from his sleeve and threw it over.
Meng Zhi sank his teeth into the pear and froze, but seeing Mei Changsu’s smiling gaze turn to him, he proceeded to take a big bite as if nothing had happened.
From one of the neighboring bamboo buildings, the lingering tune of a flute drifted over, sweet and crisp, seeming to cleanse the minds and souls of all who heard it. Hearing the music, Fei Liu vanished out the window like a wingless bird, disappearing into the treetops once more.
“That child, he must have cooked the pears to warm them up.” Meng Zhi held up the core of the pear he had almost finished eating, and shook his head with a sigh. “The pears weren’t sweet to begin with, and after he cooked them, they’ve become as hard as blocks of wood.”
Mei Changsu didn’t seem to hear him, but leaned back against the bamboo chair, his eyelids drooping gently, as he quietly listened to the clear tune carried over by the gentle breeze. When the song died away, he let out a long sigh and said, “I have come to the capital to enter into the dragons’ wars and the tigers’ battles, to fight for a better kingdom. Uncle Shisan²’s song is too sorrowful.”
Meng Zhi raised an eyebrow as a thin, elderly gentleman dressed in green emerged from between two bamboo buildings, giving off an indistinct air as if he were standing far away in a bamboo forest. He came to their building and did not enter, but drew aside his robes and knelt before the door, saying in a deep voice, “Shisan greets the young master. I was thinking of the past and my heart filled with grief, and so unintentionally disturbed the young master’s mood, please punish your wretched servant.”
Mei Changsu looked at him, his gaze betraying a hint of nostalgia, and said in a low voice, “Uncle Shisan truly knows my heart. You do not need to stand on ceremony here, please rise.”
The old gentleman rose solemnly and entered. He looked upon Mei Changsu’s thin, frail figure, and seemed to tremble, moved beyond words.
Meng Zhi was an old member of the Chiyan Army and knew that Lin Shu’s mother had been close friends with an imperial musician, and he had also lived in Jinling for many years and was therefore familiar with the name of the famous composer of Miaoyin House, Mister Shisan, but he had never before put these two persons together, and now, seeing the scene before his eyes, he understood, and was shaken.
Mei Changsu composed himself, and then raised a hand and gestured for Shisan to come closer, at the same time turning to Meng Zhi and saying, “Meng dage, this Mister Shisan is an old member of our Lin household, so from now on, I must ask the great commander to take good care of him here in Jinling.”
Meng Zhi understood his meaning and nodded. “Miaoyin House, right? I will make sure to take care of it.”
“I thank you in advance.” Mei Changsu laughed lightly. “Meng dage has been here for a long time, and what we must now discuss is not entirely within the confines of the law, so perhaps the commander should not stay?”
Meng Zhi made a dismissive noise. “I want to listen to your secrets, what are you going to do?”
Mei Changsu slowly lowered his head and didn’t speak for a long time, and then finally said, “When it is necessary, I will not hesitate to use your power, but no matter what, I still wish for you only to help me perform certain tasks that are without risk; after all, it was not easy for you to have ascended to the place you hold now….”
Meng Zhi looked at him steadily. “Do you want to hear the truth?”
“I really do value my current position and identity very much, and if you had not returned, I would say that these things could be considered important to me.” Meng Zhi’s gaze was firm and unyielding as iron. “But, Xiao Shu, since you have come back now, there is no way that I can remain uninvolved.”
Mei Changsu briefly closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, his expression was once again calm as water, and he did not look at Meng Zhi, but turned to Mister Shisan. “Uncle Shisan, the matters I have asked you to look into, have you investigated them?”
“Yes,” Mister Shisan answered respectfully. “Qin Banruo of Crimson Sleeve House was apprentice to a princess of the Hua tribe, whose nation was exterminated thirty years ago, and she is now one of Prince Yu’s most trusted advisers. I have discovered that fifteen concubines of various court officials are also her subordinates, and as for the list of names…her spy network is deep, but Gong Yu has succeeded in infiltrating her network with some of our people, so as soon as the young master gives the command, I am confident that we will be able to destroy her power.”
Meng Zhi raised an eyebrow. “Controlling the court officials through their concubines? Prince Yu has even more tricks up his sleeve than the Crown Prince.”
“Do you think the Crown Prince has any fewer?” Mei Changsu threw him a glance, and turned away again. “Do not touch Qin Banruo for now, there are some things that I cannot tell Prince Yu myself, so I must trouble her to pass on the messages. I have two pieces of news here, go back and discuss with Gong Yu how you can allow Qin Banruo to discover them.”
“Young master, please continue.”
“First, everyone believes that the persons behind the attempted murder of Xuanjing Officer Xia Dong on her return journey to the capital were under the Duke of Qing’s orders, but it is not so. The assassins were actually employed by Tianquan Manor, and were under the direct orders of the manor’s chief, Zhuo Dingfeng. Second, the elderly couple who came to the capital to make the initial accusation are aged and frail, but they were still able to avoid assassins sent by a wealthy household, and managed to flee across four provinces to Jiangzuo territory; this was not because they had good fortune and met some righteous protector, but because there were people secretly guarding them.” Mei Changsu stopped for a moment, the corner of his mouth tightening. “And the people who were protecting them from the shadows to ensure that they arrived safely into the capital to make their accusation, were also hired by Tianquan Manor.”
“What?” Meng Zhi, listening off to the side, had broken out in a cold sweat, and although he knew he should not interrupt, he couldn’t help himself. “How could that be?”
“With only these two seemingly unrelated pieces of information, it is easy to become confused.” Mei Changsu smiled. “Let me explain it to you. When I mentioned Tianquan Manor, who among the court did you immediately think of?”
“Of course the Marquis of Ning, Xie Yu. Since the two families came to share a son, their relationship has become incredibly close.”
“Zhuo Dingfeng is a jianghu man, and he must have intervened in this matter at the request of Xie Yu. Think about it, Xie Yu used the Zhuo family to escort a pair of accusers into the capital to make a case against the Duke of Qing, don’t you feel this is very strange?”
Meng Zhi was deep in thought. “It is indeed…although Xie Yu has always maintained a neutral front, his heir, Xie Bi, has openly sided with Prince Yu, so why would the Xie family escort people into the capital to accuse the Duke of Qing, who is one of Prince Yu’s important supporters? Unless….” Meng Zhi gasped, suddenly understanding. “Unless Xie Yu is actually supporting the Crown Prince!”
Mei Changsu gave a small smile. “The land infringement case of Bin province is not difficult, even someone mediocre would have been able to easily investigate the matter. But the Emperor had to send Xia Dong. And so in the end, she not only found out everything about the land infringement case, she even unexpectedly discovered that those who had secretly escorted the elderly couple to the capital were actually sent by Zhuo Dingfeng. Like you, she naturally immediately thought of the Xie family, and also immediately realized that Xie Yu was actually the Crown Prince’s right-hand man. But Xie Yu still very much wants to keep a foot in both boats to preserve his advantage, and so he cannot let Prince Yu discover the role he played in the land infringement case, thus, he could only burn his bridges and try to silence Xia Dong before she entered the city.”
Meng Zhi’s eyebrows furrowed, and he sighed, “Actually, he didn’t need to go so far….”
“Correct, he actually did not need to go so far.” Mei Changsu’s gaze was serious. “Because, Xuanjing officers never involve themselves in court politics, and so even if Xia Dong knew, she would not say anything…. but Xie Yu was blinded by his own involvement and didn’t realize it at the time….”
“So Xia Dong now knows that Xie Yu was the one who tried to kill her?”
“You found some way to tell her, huh?” Meng Zhi laughed.
“Even without my hint, she would have discovered it herself.”
“How strange, Xia Dong has returned to the capital long ago, and since she knows that Xie Yu tried to silence her, why hasn’t she said anything? This isn’t like her, she’s usually so fierce and quick to react against any insults.”
Mei Changsu sighed lightly and said, “I had hoped that she would speak out, but after I thought about it carefully, I understand why she has not said anything….”
“You know why?”
“That year, when Nie Feng died in battle, the one who brought his bones back to the capital to return them to Xia Dong was Xie Yu…and for this favour, Xia Dong will forgive him once….”
A dull pain arose in Meng Zhi’s chest. Although he knew of the tragic end of those events of the past, he had never been clear on the actual details, and had never dared to ask, and now, seeing Mei Changsu bring up Nie Feng, although his voice was steady and his expression calm, for some reason, Meng Zhi felt as if he was seeing through him into a glimpse of the fiery hell within, but the burning image passed by in a flash, and he didn’t dare look again.
“Since Xia Dong will not say it, then I will.” Mei Changsu continued quietly, as if he had not felt anything unusual. “Xie Yu has had a comfortable time living off of both sides, it is a pity that those days are about to end. Since he has chosen the Crown Prince, then I will let Prince Yu know that among the enemies he must face, he must not overlook this ‘pillar of the court’…”
Meng Zhi nodded heavily. “This Xie Yu’s schemes are truly profound. But, Xiao Shu, will Prince Yu understand simply from these two pieces of news?”
“Don’t worry,” Mei Changsu smiled. “Mistress Qin is exceedingly clever, and is especially skilled at drawing accurate conclusions from minimal amounts of information, so these two pieces of news will be enough for her. It is too bad she has chosen Prince Yu to fulfill her own ambitions, or she would truly be a valuable talent.”
“Well, no matter how smart she is, hasn’t she still fallen into your trap?”
Mei Changsu shook his head. “She is working in the open, and I am in the shadows, so even if I have the upper hand for now, I do not dare underestimate her.” He turned to Mister Shisan, who had been listening quietly, and said, “You must be careful when leaking the information, and consider carefully how much to release and when to do so, Qin Banruo is incredibly smart, you must not act carelessly.”
“Yes,” Mister Shisan bent his head. “I will certainly not let you down.”
“Good.” Mei Changsu rose, looking tired. “If anything happens, you may contact me by the usual methods. Uncle Shisan, you may take your leave.”
Mister Shisan bowed and retreated a few steps, then thought of something and stopped, drew out a lotus flower embroidered pouch and presented it with both hands, saying, “The young master must not be sleeping well since entering the capital, this den of tigers and wolves, this is a sleep fragrance that Gong Yu spent many months blending, and knowing that I would be seeing the young master today, she asked me to bring it over, pray the young master indulge her efforts and burn a piece before you sleep, to bring you good dreams.”
Mei Changsu stood there quietly for a moment, some unknown emotion passing over his pale face, but after some time, he slowly stretched out a hand and accepted the lotus pouch, slipping it into his sleeve without a second glance, and said indifferently, “Alright, please thank Gong Yu for me.”
Mister Shisan bowed again and left the bamboo house, quickly disappearing among the bamboo forest once again.
¹I forgot to say it in the last chapter: dage means literally “older brother”; it’s more polite than “gege” but less formal than “xiong” (which is what Jingrui and Yujin call MCS – “Su xiong” which I translate as “Brother Su”)
²”shisan” literally translates to thirteen. So he’s ‘Uncle / Mister Thirteen’. Obviously it’s not his real name, but it’s how he’s called in the story.