That day, Xiao Jingrui had gone out with his mother, Grand Princess Liyang, and it was late by the time he returned, but when he heard from Xie Bi what had happened to Mei Changsu, he still immediately hurried over to Snow Cottage. But when he arrived at the door of the guest cottage, he discovered that it was all dark, and it seemed as if everyone inside had gone to sleep. Before, he might not have cared and might have barged in and woken them anyway, but, for some reason, the closeness of their friendship seemed to be dissipating, and etiquette and courtesy seemed even more important now than in the first few days of their acquaintance. He felt this especially strongly now, as he stood there gazing into the darkness of the courtyard and the shadows of the trees all around, and it was as if this friend who had gained so much of his admiration and respect was truly drifting further and further from him, and was no longer the warm, laughing Brother Su who had walked beside him at the beginning.
Giving a long sigh, Xiao Jingrui turned and followed the stone-paved path towards his own rooms. In the cold, still night, there was a heavy dampness in the air; perhaps it would snow later in the night. The first time they had met was in the snow on Qinling¹, where they had pledged friendship over wine and laughter, and now things had come to this, and he couldn’t help the emotions welling up in his heart, as his footsteps grew slower and slower. Just after he passed the rock garden, there was a sudden coldness on his face, and when he reached up, his fingers brushed against wetness. He lifted his head and gazed intently into the dark sky and couldn’t see anything, but his skin and nose had detected what his eyes could not, and he realized it had begun to snow lightly.
It was not yet midnight and the snow had already begun to fall, it seemed tomorrow would dawn on a world of crystal and glass. If he had not been so burdened by the woes of the world, he could have met up with two or three friends and admired the snow by a warm brazier with the company of good wine, the joy of the day complemented by the beauty of the scenery. It was a pity….
Letting out another sigh, Xiao Jingrui shook his head, as if shaking loose the weight on his chest, and reached out a hand to wipe away the wetness on his face. As he was about to take another step, he thought he saw a dim shadow flit by out of the corner of his eye, so quickly it seemed half a hallucination, but when he turned his head to look, there was nothing there.
Whether it was from a sense of foreboding or simple vigilance, Xiao Jingrui held still, standing quietly behind the rock garden, watching Snow Cottage from between the peaks of two rocks.
Sure enough, a moment later, another dark shadow flew by. This time, he had concentrated and so saw clearly. The shadow had come from the direction of the eastern wall of Snow Cottage, and after leaping up the walls of the courtyard, it was now lying motionless on the roof of the cottage, and a moment later, a second shadow had appeared from the same place and disappeared onto the roof. This pattern repeated itself until there were about ten people on the roof of Snow Cottage. Xiao Jingrui was just wondering why Fei Liu was being so quiet when a window on the west side of Snow Cottage suddenly trembled, and almost at the same moment, there was a muffled groan from the roof and then a figure was tumbling down into the courtyard, and he could see that a slender shadow, fighting like a demon, had joined the others on the roof, and the rest of the dark figures had been forced back onto the east side of the roof, and seemed to be having some difficulty defending themselves.
Xiao Jingrui was just smiling in admiration of Fei Liu’s skill when, in the next instant, his smile froze on his face. This was because another group of invaders had appeared in his field of vision, coming from the southern wall, and had neatly avoided Fei Liu, who was being distracted by the other group of fighters. Without stopping to think, Xiao Jingrui was already flying through the air, shouting in a loud voice, “Who dares to charge into the Xie Residence?”
Because he had no weapons on his person, as he shouted, Xiao Jingrui chose one of the fighters closest to him and struck down with the meat of his palm. His opponents seemed to be familiar with the situation in Snow Cottage and had not realized anyone besides Fei Liu was around, and so were surprised at first, but quickly regained their composure, and one of them made a gesture and two of the others came forward to engage Xiao Jingrui, as the rest charged towards the main building Mei Changsu usually stayed in.
Although this leader of the assassins had made a quick and firm decision, he committed two mistakes.
First, he underestimated Xiao Jingrui’s martial arts. The two black-clothed figures who had been ordered to stop Xiao Jingrui lost their swords by the third move, and by the fourth, they had both toppled to the ground, only having managed to slightly slow down this noble son of a Marquis house.
Second, he underestimated Fei Liu’s ferocity. Because Mei Changsu had always restrained Fei Liu from hurting anyone, it had given observers the wrong impression that this youth only possessed rather impressive martial arts skills. No one could have known that on this dark night, he would attack like the reaper himself, his every stroke aiming to kill, not leaving the slightest chance for survival, and the speed and cold efficiency with which he was taking care of those around him were frightening to behold.
But at the same time, Xiao Jingrui and Fei Liu had also committed a mistake – they had underestimated the abilities of the leader of the assassins.
After realizing his disadvantage, the leader immediately ordered the rest of his men to engage Fei Liu, as he himself turned to face Xiao Jingrui’s rapidly descending sword.
Weapons are one thing, and swordsmanship is another. Because it was a sword seized in battle, it was not the most natural fit, but Xiao Jingrui’s skill with a sword was still second to none, and so, no matter how the leader of the assassins dodged and ducked, blocking with the steel in his own hand as sparks leapt from the contact of the metal, Xiao Jingrui’s next stroke still fell ruthlessly and unrelentingly.
His palm struck squarely onto the other’s chest, and his opponent flew through the air like a kite cut from its string, and it was only then that Xiao Jingrui realized something wasn’t right, but it was too late to take it back, as the leader of the assassins had already used the power of his strike to fly through the air like an arrow, breaking open the door and charging into the main building.
As far as Xiao Jingrui knew and for as long as he had known him, within this master building, there only dwelled the thin, frail Mei Changsu, who did not keep even a servant by his side.
“Brother Su!” With a piercing cry, Xiao Jingrui rushed up the steps and leapt over the shattered door into the dark, dim room within. The stench of blood hit him full in the face, but even with his frighteningly accurate night vision, he could only see a figure motionless in the center of the room. Before he could react, a bright light flared as the lamp on the desk was lit, and in the soft glow, he saw Mei Changsu standing there, draped in a long fur coat, one hand holding onto the table, his clear, pure complexion appearing harsh in the candlelight.
Xiao Jingrui’s gaze fell onto the small bow he had casually placed onto the table – a vermilion-red bow with an ink-black bowstring, a knot of white jade, and a pattern as intricate as teardrops.
“Yes, this is the mighty crossbow made by the Ban family, ‘Draw-in-Vain’,” Mei Changsu answered. “Jinling is truly unlike any other place, to have forced me to use this.”
Xiao Jingrui lowered his head and saw that the body of the leader of the assassins was lying not far from his feet, an elaborate little arrow stuck firmly into the center of his throat. Although his chest was soaked in red blood, it was obviously blood he had spit out from the last hit he had received from Xiao Jingrui’s own hand, whereas the wound in his throat had been made with such incredible marksmanship that it had caused his muscles to contract, and not a drop of blood had been spilled. One could only imagine the sharpness of the eyes that had watched and waited in the darkness, and the steadiness of the hands that had fired the arrow.
“It would be best for you not to look.” Seeing that Xiao Jingrui was about to pull away the dark cloth obscuring the assassin’s face, Mei Changsu stopped him in a quiet voice. “It is so late, I had not thought you would come.”
“I heard Brother Su met some mishap today out on the road, and was worried. It was only after I rushed over that I realized it was so late.” Xiao Jingrui’s fingers were already grasping the corner of the cloth, but a nameless hesitation rose in his heart, and he did not immediately pull it away.
He was not Xie Bi, he had been raised from young in the jianghu world, and knew jianghu well, he had killed with his own hands, and had seen the kind of jianghu battles that ended with a ground full of bodies, and so he was not afraid of corpses, and no matter how gruesome the sight, it would not have frightened the second-ranked gentleman of the Langya Lists, the young master Xiao.
But Brother Su had said…”it would be best for you not to look”….
The intruder was lying before him, his face covered by the dark cloth, and no matter whether he looked or not, it would remain the same face. Just like certain truths which, no matter whether he understood them or not, would exist forever, regardless of his actions.
Xiao Jingrui clenched his teeth and finally drew aside the thin cloth, which seemed to weigh a thousand pounds.
After a single glance, his gaze faltered. His hand slowly clenched into a fist, the muscles on his face convulsing in distress.
It was a face which seemed both unfamiliar and familiar.
Unfamiliar, because he had never greeted it or spoken with it, and didn’t know its owner’s name or position.
Familiar, because he saw it often, because it was always by his father’s side, following behind him, obeying and executing trivial orders.
If this face had not been enough to answer his questions, the silence all around him would have, seeming to slowly close in on him like a net, tightening around Xiao Jingrui’s heart.
The more absolute the quiet, the more sounds he could hear within it. The sound of the wind blowing in the night, the sound of the snow drifting to the ground, the beating of his heart, the rise and fall of his breath…he could hear everything he should not have been able to hear, and yet there was not the slightest hint of the sounds he should have been able to hear.
In this grand, stately residence of the Marquis of Ning, the clashing of swords and the cries of the fighters had rang out into the quiet night sky, but like a pebble tossed into an old well, aside from the small tremors of its ripples, there had been no other response.
Fei Liu had long since taken care of all the enemies outside in the courtyard, but he had not come back in, and Xiao Jingrui did not know what he was doing. The smell of blood was dissipating into the night, becoming almost unnoticeable.
No one had come to help, no one had even come to look, and it seemed as if the entire Xie residence had not heard anything, but was still slumbering quietly, waiting for the dawn of the next day.
“Jingrui,” Mei Changsu’s steady voice rang out, as if he had not noticed the terrified expression of the young man before him, and he continued calmly, “The manor I went to see today was recommended by Commander Meng, and is near Changji lane. The place is clean and solid, and has all the basic utilities needed for daily living, and although the scenery of the garden is somewhat lacking, it will be a good opportunity for me to redesign it entirely. And so…it is time for me to move out….”
“Move out…” Xiao Jingrui’s gaze was still fixed dazedly on the corpse before him, and he murmured, “Yes, it is time to move out, this Snow Cottage is not fit to be lived in any longer….”
“Jingrui, listen to me.” Mei Changsu put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, gripping it gently. “Go back to your rooms now, as if you had not come to Snow Cottage tonight, as if everything you have seen was only a bad dream. Tomorrow, go out with Yujin and relax a bit, as if everything is as it always was. You cannot let your imagination run wild, and cause your mother to worry….”
“Can everything…really be as it was?” Xiao Jingrui stood, and looked into Mei Changsu’s eyes. “I do not want to know why my father wants to kill you, I only want to know…why did you have to get swept up into the whirlpool of Jinling? You were the kind of jianghu person I admired the most – carefree and easy, without worry or constraints…”
Mei Changsu gave him a bitter smile, looking into the light of the lamp on the desk. “You are wrong, there has never been anyone carefree in this world, so long as a person has sentiments³ and hopes, he can never be carefree.”
“But you could have avoided this….”
“Jingrui,” Mei Changsu raised his gaze, his expression becoming just slightly cold. “You are not me, do not judge in my place. Go back now, I will leave early tomorrow. I have received your care and protection these many days in Snow Cottage. Once I have settled into my new manor, if you wish, you are welcome as my guest any time.”
Xiao Jingrui looked at him in a daze and asked, “In the future, I can still come?”
A smile spread across Mei Changsu’s face. “Why not? I only fear you would not wish to come, you never know.”
Xiao Jingrui thought about the chaos of the current situation, and about how he and his father now stood on opposing sides, and felt as if his heart had been tied into tangled knots, and stood there at a loss. He had originally thought that it was only Xie Bi who had gotten involved with palace politics, and had thought nothing much of it, believing that, should anything happen in the future, they could always rely on the respective statuses of the Marquis of Ning and the Grand Princess for protection, but today, he had suddenly discovered that his father was not as neutral as he appeared, and had only now come to understand just how deeply the Xie family had woven itself into the affairs of the court. Even though he had never paid much attention to it, and had always kept an easy, carefree life away from the palace, he was still a part of the Xie family, and so could not completely avoid caring about the matter. Thinking about it now, the words Yan Yujin had spoken to him in the grasslands that day had truly been full of foresight.
“Things have not come to this point yet, what is the use in worrying?” Mei Changsu seemed to know the thoughts of his heart, and said with a gentle smile, “You only have to hold fast to your pure honesty, and there will be nothing you cannot endure. Like the snow falling outside – although it is coming down heavier and heavier, you and I both know, there will be at time when it stops.”
As if in response to his words, a gust of wind and snow blew in through the shattered doorway, bringing in a bout of cold and a human figure. Fei Liu reached out a hand, picked up the body on the ground, and easily pulled it back outside. Xiao Jingrui followed him to the door and saw him give it a casual swing, throwing it over the wall, and when he looked beyond him to the courtyard, he saw that it was empty and neat, clean of the previous mess.
“You’re just going to throw them out like this?” Xiao Jingrui was taken aback.
“It’s fine,” it was Mei Changsu who answered. “Someone will deal with them once they are outside.”
XIao Jingrui listened to his ice-like tone, which was nothing like the warm Brother Su he had met in those early days, and felt his heart shudder, a shiver running down his back.
Fei Liu had already returned, and now grasped Mei Changsu by the hand. “Together!”
“Alright,” Mei Changsu smiled at him softly, his manner changing swiftly but naturally. “Su gege will return with you to the west building to sleep. Go and see Xiao gege out first, alright?”
Fei Liu turned and fixed the dazed Xiao Jingrui with his gaze. “No!”
“No need, no need,” Xiao Jingrui seemed to wake up, an indescribable pain rising up in his heart as he answered sadly, “You go rest, I will leave now. For the rest of the night…be careful.”
Mei Changsu laughed lightly and nodded, watching as Xiao Jingrui walked heavily out of the room into the courtyard, the small smile on his face fading into quiet grief. From the back, the young man’s head was lowered, the originally tall and straight figure now seeming slightly crooked, as if something heavy weighed on his forehead, which he must bear, and bear bitterly. What this young man must face in the future, perhaps only Mei Changsu himself knew, and the schemes held in his chest felt like ice and iron as they seemed to whisper to him, even if you know, everything that should happen will still happen according to the path which has which has already been laid.
“It has only just begun…Jingrui…I hope you can endure all of this….” After this soft murmur, Mei Changsu gathered up the sympathy that had spilled out inadvertently, then took Fei Liu by the hand and slowly returned to the west room.
¹a mountain range in Shaanxi which forms a natural barrier between Guanzhong plain and Han River valley (source: )
²from a Chinese idiom: “there are many painters in this world, but none can paint a grieving heart”, and the three words of the name of the bow (畫不成) literally translate to “cannot paint”…but I’m gonna take some artistic licence here, k (something like: there are many painters in this world, but they draw in vain a grieving heart)
³the word can also be translated as ‘feelings’ or ‘relationships’
Chapter 45 Translator’s Notes:
Jingrui, poor bb ❤
I absolutely loved the actor who played Xiao Jingrui in the drama, and I feel he portrayed Jingrui’s journey from innocence to the loss thereof while still maintaining that sweet purity so, so well, and goodness knows he made me cry (that scene from the aftermath of the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Birthday Party, when Jingrui fall to his knees in front of his Zhuo parents, just absolutely broken and speechless……and then his Zhuo mama takes him into her arms…..arghhhhhhh).
But still, I think the novel Jingrui is going to break my heart even more (#everytimeIthinkthisstorycan’tbreakmyheartanymore yes it should be a hashtag don’t you agree), if only because we spend more time with him, and inside his head. And so, the shattering of his innocence is going to be that much more painful when it comes.
*checks index* We are roughly 40 chapters away from the start of the 8-chapter long birthday party, and the worst night of Xiao Jingrui’s life. Enjoy your hot springs while you can, my sweet.