The snow fell continuously for three days. In its midst, Mei Changsu quietly moved to his new residence without purposefully notify anyone, but within a few days, everyone who should know had already found out.
The Mu residence and the Yu residence naturally sent over many gifts of good wishes for the new manor, and the palace also bestowed upon him royal gifts of chains of jewels and bolts of cloth, and it was said that Princess Jingning had been involved in their preparation. Xuanjing Officer Xia Dong turned up empty-handed and gave herself a tour around the manor, then dropped a single sentence, “What an ugly courtyard!”, and left. But the other guests who came to visit didn’t dare make any similar comments because everyone knew that this manor had been recommended by Commander Meng, and what could you expect from the tastes of these martial arts experts?
Xiao Jingrui, Yan Yujin, and Xie Bi also naturally came as guests, but the joyful atmosphere of their earlier days was long gone, and only Yan Yujin tried hard to chat about interesting topics, trying to cheer everyone up, but Xiao Jingrui didn’t reply much, and even Xie Bi, for some reason, seemed dazed and half-asleep.
Mei Changsu took the opportunity to persuade the three to leave the capital, and to visit the neighbouring Huqiu¹ hot springs to relax for a few days.
“It is indeed the right season to visit the hot springs,” Yan Yujin seemed interested by his suggestion. “But never mind Jingrui, I can take him with me anytime, only, I’m afraid Xie Bi can’t leave so easily whenever he pleases, he is not like us idlers, he has many things to take care of every day, and going for a visit to the Huqiu hot springs would probably take at least half a month.”
He had just finished speaking when Xie Bi suddenly struck the table and said, “Why can’t I go, come on, let’s go together…”
“Do you have a fever?” Yan Yujin reached out a hand to feel his forehead. “Every day you talk about how busy you are, how are you suddenly not busy?”
Xie Bi looked blank for a moment, and then his expression became sad. “I’m not busy anymore…there isn’t much to do….”
Yan Yujin saw that he was speaking the truth, and was taken aback, but Xiao Jingrui was already reaching out a hand to grip Xie Bi’s shoulder, saying, “Second Brother, don’t think so much, Brother Su is right, the Huqiu hot springs are a good place to relax, I will go with you and put down our worries for awhile…before coming back…”
Mei Changsu’s heart gave a quiet sigh, and he was about to speak when one of the new servants came bounding over to report, “Mister, His Highness Prince Yu has arrived.”
Xie Bi jumped and looked around helplessly. Mei Changsu understood his feelings, and said quietly, “If you don’t mind, you can leave by the side door, is that alright?”
Yan Yujin looked from one to the other, and although he did not understand why Xie Bi was suddenly afraid to see Prince Yu, he knew that there must be a reason, and so didn’t say anything, but followed after the two brothers as they were led away by the servant.
Mei Changsu had just arrived at the outer courtyard when Prince Yu entered in plain clothes and a snow cap, a modest smile on his face, adeptly giving off an air of deep respect for the wisdom before him, and when he saw Mei Changsu bend over in a bow, he hurried forward and reached out a hand to stop him, saying with a smile, “I have taken advantage of the snow to come visit you, and am here only as a friend, please do not stand on ceremony.”
Mei Changsu gave a small smile and straightened. Prince Yu turned and looked around the courtyard, as if preparing to speak some words of praise, but then balked for a long moment, and finally only managed, “This courtyard is open and bright, and its design is austere and interesting….”
Mei Changu did not reply, but only smiled and raised a hand to invite Prince Yu into the study room, which had just been decorated, and ordered for tea to be brought.
“You have just moved into a new residence, I wonder if you have enough servants at hand? I have a few girls, quite beautiful, and very well trained, if you do not mind….”
“I thank Your Highness for your offer,” Mei Changsu half-rose in a bow. “I am a jianghu man, and have not taken a wife, and so am not too used to being served by young girls. As it happens, I have some old friends in the capital, and they have sent over some people who are quite competent, but if I have any such need in the future, I will come to Your Highness.”
Prince Yu had only made the offer out of politeness and had not really expected him to accept it, and so was not surprised by the refusal, and let his gaze roam around the study until it landed on the desk.
“Is this your work? It is very well-drawn!”
“It is only a rough draft,” Mei Changsu smiled. “Although Your Highness thinks the design of this manor is interesting, my tastes are a bit more conventional. This is the plan of the scenery and decoration of the courtyard, and I am preparing to have the manor renovated according to this design in the spring, after the snow has melted.”
“Aiya, is it only a draft? It is already so charming – look at this matching of the foliage, the layout of the paths, all arranged so elegantly in this irregular pattern, if the artist did not hold the whole picture in his mind, he certainly would not be able to produce such a detailed design.” Prince Yu had already paid his manor several undeserved compliments, so now that there was something actually worthy of praise, of course he seized the opportunity with both hands. “If this manor is really redesigned according to this plan, it will definitely become the most beautiful manor in Jinling. I say, that would be a manor worthy of Mister Mei of Jiangzuo Alliance!”
“Your Highness gives me too much praise. It was really Commander Meng who chose well, the first time I came, I found that the location and setting of this manor was suitable, and the price was so reasonable that I decided to buy it. Fortunately, my luck was good this time, and I did not come across another situation like that of Lan Manor, and now that I have stayed here for a few days, I find it very comfortable.”
Hearing him bring up Lan Manor, Prince Yu was delighted, and left the desk to return to sit beside him, saying, “That strange case of the corpses in the well of Lan Manor must have given Mister Su a fright. I hear the case has had a preliminary ruling in the Capital Magistrate Office, did you know?”
“How could a commoner such as I know about the great cases of the court….” Mei Changsu laughed.
Prince Yu thought, you were the one who uncovered this old case as revenge against Lou Zhijing, do you expect me to believe you are not following every step of its sentencing? But he showed no sign of these thoughts on his face, and instead gave a warm smile, saying with a laugh, “This case really is strange, it is just an ordinary criminal case, but it involves a number of court officials. And so, because of this, Capital Magistrate Gao Sheng went to the Ministry of Justice and said that, since ministers of the second rank or higher had been found to be involved in the case, the Capital Magistrate Office no longer had the power to remain the principal investigating office, and then he immediately handed over all the evidence and witnesses, he really does do things properly.”
Mei Changsu looked at the pleased expression on Prince Yu’s face and smiled in his heart. Although Gao Sheng did not belong to either party, he still did not dare to tamper with case evidence just because of a little pressure from the Crown Prince, and so he was originally in distress over how to handle the dilemma, but coincidentally, his old master had made a suggestion regarding He Wenxin’s murder case, advising him to hastily hand the whole thing over to his superiors, and had suddenly inadvertently reminded him of this option for the Lan manor case as well, and so he had immediately gone to question Shi Douguan through the night, and as soon as he hit upon the name “Lou Zhijing”, he instantly stopped and did not ask even a single additional detail, but took the whole case to the Ministry of Justice on the premise of ‘involvement of ministers of the second-rank and above’, and so in a single day, he had gotten rid of two difficult cases that could have offended important and powerful people, and so that night, he finally went to sleep with a light heart. After all this, he could only say that, though his luck had been truly bad this year, at least he had managed to preserve his life and those of his wife and children, and if he could be transferred to another post in the future, then he would count it an unexpected blessing.
Gao Sheng’s cautious evasion had played right into Prince Yu’s wishes, as now these two cases, one to his disadvantage, and one to his very great advantage, had both fallen into the hands of the Ministry of Justice, whose head, Qi Min, was quick and clever as well as his faithful subordinate for many years, and so Prince Yu couldn’t help being in an extremely good mood. Remembering that Lou Zhijing was an enemy of Jiangzuo Alliance and that the ‘corpses in the well’ case had been uncovered by Mei Changsu’s own hand, of course he had to come over to deliver his personal gratitude.
“I hear…the Lan manor case has involved Minister Lou of the Ministry of Appointments?” It seemed this Mei Changsu was truly clever, and as soon as he heard that the case had been reported to the Ministry of Justice, his expression grew troubled. “I wonder if the Ministry of Justice has the right to investigate ministers of the same rank as itself?”
“You are probably not familiar with the rules of the court, investigation by a single department is naturally not possible, but as long as the evidence and witnesses are intact, they can report it to His Majesty and request for the head of the High Bureau of Justice to join the investigation, and so two departments will investigate one, and then they will no longer be restricted by the problem of the same rank.”
“I see.” Understanding spread across Mei Changsu’s expression. “But because the case had been investigated in the Ministry of Justice up until now, the head of the High Bureau of Justice will not be familiar with the details, and so the whole process will still be mainly overseen by the Minister of Justice, is that correct?”
“Naturally. Lou Zhijing is a despicable, immoral person, preying on the weak and innocent, and the Ministry of Justice will certainly not handle him lightly, don’t worry.”
Su Zhe had only reported the case, and was not the original victim, so telling him not to worry seemed out of place, but after hearing this, Mei Changsu only nodded in silence and did not express any words of protest, as if he was tacitly acknowledging his personal enmity with Lou Zhijing, and this made Prince Yu even more confident that he was leaning towards himself. He felt almost as if they were fellow strategists plotting together, and as he grew more and more joyful, a question that he had planned to raise later now came pouring forth.
“Is Mister Su aware of the ‘Bin province land infringement case’?”
Mei Changsu lowered his head to take a sip of tea, and nodded indifferently. “Yes, on the road to Jinling, we came across the couple who made the accusation.”
Prince Yu suddenly got up and clasped his hands in a formal greeting, saying, “This case is causing me great distress, pray Mister Su give me his advice.”
Mei Changsu gazed at him for a long moment, then said quietly, “His Majesty has finally decided to open this case?”
“Yes, Father Emperor summoned me and the Crown Prince into the palace today to ask our views regarding this land infringement case, and finally…he decided to hand the case over to Prince Jing to investigate, with the help of the heads of the three departments….”
Mei Changsu’s expression did not change, as he asked, “How did Your Highness and the Crown Prince respond to His Majesty’s decision?”
“Neither of us objected….” Prince Yu sighed. “The Crown Prince did not protest because he knew that Father would never agree to give the case to him, so as long as it did not fall into my hands, he was already very satisfied, not to mention Prince Jing has always been upright and just.”
“And Your Highness?”
“I did not dare protest, for fear Father would grow suspicious. Mister Su should be aware that I have a close relationship with the Duke of Qing….” Prince Yu looked worried. “That the case did not fall into the hands of the Crown Prince is already a great fortune, but I am worried that, with Jingyan’s rigid nature, it will not be easy to interfere.”
“Didn’t Your Highness protect Prince Jing in front of His Majesty over the matter of the Princess not long ago? That would count as a favour, no?”
Prince Yu smiled bitterly. “It is indeed a favour, but it will not be enough to persuade Prince Jing to listen to me. Perhaps Mister Su does not know what kind of person Jingyan is, to tell the truth, I have never met anyone so stubborn and unyielding, and even Father sometimes cannot handle him….”
“Then Your Highness wants me to find a way to restrain Prince Jing, so that he will handle this land infringement case according to Your Highness’ wishes?”
“If you have any ideas, I would be endlessly grateful.”
“Then dare I ask Your Highness, how would you wish this land infringement case handled?”
“It would be best if it could be proven to be just a false claim by foolish commoners. If that is not possible, then the main goal is to suppress the whole thing.”
Mei Changsu gave him a long look and then suddenly laughed grimly. “Your Highness, are you still dwelling in the dreams of last night’s sleep? Do you think the evidence the Xuanjing Bureau has brought back is just for show?”
Prince Yu coughed, but because he had been putting up this benevolent front for so long, he had grown accustomed to giving a show of magnanimity, and so not only did he not get angry, he actually looked a bit embarrassed as he replied, “This…is a bit difficult, and so it is more important than ever to have Prince Jing’s protection, because no matter what, as long as the Duke of Qing is found to be ignorant of the whole matter, it doesn’t matter how the rest of the case is sentenced.”
Mei Changsu’s lip curled, and he gazed deeply at Prince Yu for a long time, until Prince Yu grew a bit uneasy, and finally said coolly, “If Your Highness truly harbours such intentions, then I must ask bluntly, since there are a thousand paths to choose from, why choose one that leads to a dead end?”
Prince Yu looked taken aback. “What is the meaning of these words?”
“Your Highness is a wise and renowned royal prince, heavily favoured by His Majesty and popular among the court ministers, so that you can even compete with the Crown Prince. But Your Highness has forgotten, no matter how powerful Your Highness becomes, in all of Da Liang, there is one person Your Highness can never, ever make your enemy.” There was a hint of a smile as cold as ice at the corner of Mei Changsu’s mouth, and his every word cut like a knife. “That person is our Emperor, your father.”
Prince Yu quickly got up, protesting, “When have I ever thought to make an enemy of Father Emperor?”
“Then who does Your Highness think is behind the opening of this case? The Crown Prince? Prince Jing? No, it is His Majesty! His Majesty spent so much effort finding someone like Prince Jing to lead the investigation, why? Isn’t it because he wants to use this case as an example to put a stop to the current trend of land infringement crimes? When you and the Crown Prince fight, what the two of you care about is the throne, but to His Majesty the Emperor, he still has to govern the nation, and so he will tolerate your quarrels, but he would never allow them to interfere with the management of national affairs. When His Majesty sent a Xuanjing Officer to investigate this case, when he decided to hand it over to Prince Jing for sentencing, it shows that His Majesty already has a predetermined conclusion for this matter in his mind, and if his plan is disrupted because of Your Highness’ own meddling, then who is the person you will most anger? In order to protect one Duke of Qing, you will lose all of His Majesty’s favour, have you weighed this balance?”
Hearing this, a cold sweat was breaking out on Prince Yu’s forehead, and he sat there in a daze, reaching out a hand to grasp at his tea cup and then draining its contents in one swallow.
“Your Highness,” Mei Changsu continued relentlessly, a shred of coldness seeping into his voice. “You lost the Duke of Qing long ago, you must understand this.”
¹Huqiu is a district in the city of Suzhou, in the province of Jiangsu
Chapter 46 Translator’s Notes:
Okay, one more Prince Yu chapter, and then MCS & Fei Liu are back. (Yes, I know MCS is here, but he’s with Prince Yu so it barely counts.) Favourites, what favourites?