He had lost the Duke of Qing long ago…. Mei Changsu was not the first to arrive at this conclusion, as many of the strategists of Prince Yu’s residence had mentioned this at their meeting, but at the time, everyone had focused on the unyielding character of the principal investigator, Prince Jing, and the evidence collected in person by the Xuanjing Bureau, and about how it would be almost impossible to overturn this case, and so the conversation had dwelt on the practicalities of the issue, leaving Prince Yu with a shred of hope in his heart. But today, Mei Changsu had wasted no time in addressing the heart of the matter, and had bluntly pointed out that he had lost the Duke of Qing, not because it would be difficult to protect him, but because he simply could not be protected.
Unlike the Crown Prince, Prince Yu possessed a good sense of judgement himself, and as soon as Mei Changsu raised this point, he knew that it was the truth, and his keen attention suddenly vanished, his heart sinking. In truth, he had no personal sentiment towards the Duke of Qing, but he was the only minister on the military side to publicly support Prince Yu, and by the power of his seniority, he could easily raise the support of a number of his disciples and old friends, and so for this reason was all the more valuable. If it were only a few days ago, he could have accepted this loss, heavy as it was, but ever since Qin Banruo had informed him secretly that Xie Yu was actually supporting the Crown Prince, he had become more and more aware of the Duke of Qing’s importance.
According to the court system of Da Liang, there was a strict divide between civil and military positions, where civil officials could not be granted the title of ‘Marquis’, military officials could not participate in politics, and no minister below the first rank could hold both civil and military titles. Civil ministers could rely on reviews of their work as well as the favour of their superiors and the Emperor for promotions in rank, but the elevation of the ranks of military officials had to rely on their military deeds, and not only the favour of the Emperor. It was because of this tradition that the majority of military officials remained uninterested in matters unrelated to the army, such as the fight for the crown, because even if they took the great risk of choosing a side, they could not gain any real reward or elevation in rank without actual military accomplishments, so since it was not a gamble worth the price, why not just enjoy the show from the sidelines? Only those military officials who had already earned a first-rank status by their military service and had been granted the rank of ‘Marquis’ or ‘Commander’ were not restrained by this limitation, and could receive any titles granted by the Emperor, as well as salaries exceeding those of their rank and gifts and rewards to their families and inheritance. Of the military officials in all of Da Liang, there were only about five of such a rank.
And so, the choices of these five represented in large part the preferences of most of the military officials, although, of these five, aside from the Duke of Qing, who openly supported Prince Yu, and the Marquis of Ning, who secretly supported the Crown Prince, the rest seemed to be keeping out of the conflict.
Of course, when deciding who would inherit the throne, eight parts of the Emperor’s decision would be based on the Crown Prince and Prince Yu’s performance in the tasks for which they were responsible and their ability to gain power amidst the six departments of the court, but the remaining two parts would also take into consideration the preferences of the military.
Although Prince Yu was confident that he had the upper hand in the first eight parts, he knew he had not managed to widen the gap by much, and so the remaining two parts still had great importance to the overall outcome.
Not to mention, the attitudes of the military officials had always been difficult to determine, because most of the them took no chances, and never betrayed any hint of bias, shaking their heads tight-lipped if anyone tried to ask, and only at the very last moment when the Emperor asked them personally would they lean close to the imperial ear to softly whisper a name, not letting the sound carry to even a single bystander. Although this would not gain them any great favour from the newly chosen Emperor, it also avoided any great mishaps, and was the preferred method of those without much ambition.
And so from this it can be seen how rare and valuable the public support of a first-ranked military official was to Prince Yu.
“Mister Su does not know,” Prince Yu let out a sigh, and confided, “I had always believed that I had the advantage over the Crown Prince in recruiting the support of the military officials, because I had the Duke of Qing, as well as Xie Bi, and never had to worry about the military side of things. But in the end, after all my planning, I still never could have thought that the Marquis of Ning was actually playing both sides, and when he did not openly object to Xie Bi being taken under my wing, I thought he was leaning towards me, but he had actually been secretly supporting the Crown Prince all along, and single-handedly raised up this ‘land infringement’ case to remove the Duke of Qing…and now, I have no way to know the preferences of the military, and I fear that when the moment comes, I will fall because of this weakness….”
Mei Changsu listened quietly to Prince Yu’s laments, and aside from nodding slightly, did not show any other expression. Prince Yu’s gaze seemed to flicker at this response, but his expression was controlled, and he closed his eyes briefly, then gave a bitter smile and said ruefully, “Aiya, it is my own recklessness. I have forgotten that Mister Su has a very good relationship with the two noble sons of the Marquis of Ning…. I have made things difficult for you with these words….”
Mei Changsu’s expression did not change, and he did not deny it, only lowering his head slightly.
“But to my knowledge, although Mister Su is good friends with Jingrui and Xie Bi, you are also intimate friends with Princess Nihuang, and have even dared to anger the Crown Prince for her sake….” Prince Yu gazed at Mei Changsu and continued, “Perhaps that was not your original intention, but as the deed has been done, it cannot be taken back now. If I have guessed correctly, there has also been some ulterior motive to your leaving Snow Cottage amidst the snowstorm in such a hurry?”
“Where have Your Highness’ thoughts gone to?” There was a hint of something forced about Mei Changsu’s light smile. “I am only a jianghu man, without worries or cares, and wasn’t used to the Marquis’ grand residence, and so moved out as soon as possible. As for the Crown Prince’s misunderstanding towards me, if there is an opportunity, I will be able to explain it clearly to him.”
Hearing the hidden rejection in this reply, Prince Yu’s eye twitched and his brow furrowed in anger, but only for a short moment, before he immediately suppressed his fury again.
At this moment, it was even more important not to appear as narrow-minded and petty as the Crown Prince, or he would lose the opportunity to obtain what he wanted…this was what Prince Yu was telling himself.
Since Mei Changsu had left Lang province to enter Jinling, it must mean that he had understood in his heart that he could not avoid the fate laid on him by the words of Langya Hall, and so had prepared himself to choose a master. In these forced circumstances, he would choose whoever seemed the most generous, and whoever made him feel safest. And once he had made up his mind and chosen a side, this qilin prodigy would certainly not hold back.
This was because Mei Changsu really valued his Jiangzuo Alliance too much. If the side he chose should come to lose the fight for the throne, Jiangzuo Alliance would undoubtedly suffer from the losses of their chief, and no matter what, Mei Changsu would not let this happen. So as long as Prince Yu could gain his loyalty and ensure that he had no further contact with the enemy, he could tie his own fate with that of Mei Changsu and Jiangzuo Alliance, and from then on, he could make full use of his talent and abilities without worry.
This was the plan Prince Yu had devised after Qin Banruo had asked him that day, “Then if Your Highness can take Mei Changsu as your subordinate before the Crown Prince can act, are you willing to trust him unconditionally?” And it was a plan he was confident would be able to trap the abilities of this qilin prodigy and use them to their fullest.
But first, of course, he had to catch him in his net.
“Mister Su was willing to advise me on the matter of the land infringement case today, and for this I am endlessly grateful. As for the future, I do not dare to force anything.” With his warm smile and humble temperament, Prince Yu had perfectly captured the air of a gentle, kindly prince. “With your great talent, you will naturally grasp the situation with your singular insight, and what more could I add? I only wish to say, no matter how you choose in the future, no matter where fate leads us, so long as you are willing to look on me with favour, the gate of the imperial Yu residence will forever be open to you.”
These words were truly dignified and well-spoken, and Mei Changsu felt the quietly touched expression he had pasted on his face become a little more natural, and Prince Yu, who was watching his face closely, was delighted.
“I have disturbed you long enough today, and have detained you from your rest, so I will take my leave now.” Prince Yu knew that some things could no be rushed, and seeing that Mei Changsu seemed moved, he chose to retreat instead, and smilingly rose in farewell, forcing down the distress he felt over the Duke of Qing, and thus showed himself to be quite a character indeed.
Mei Changsu also rose and bent forward in a bow. “Your Highness braved the cold to come personally to my humble residence, how could it be called a disturbance? The day is late, and by courtesy I should invite Your Highness to stay for a meal, but Your Highness has a thousand responsibilities and little time for leisure, and so I do not dare make this offer. I have only offered tea today, and my hospitality is most lacking, pray Your Highness forgive me.” After saying this, he lifted a hand, as if intending to accompany his guest out.
Of course, Prince Yu would have been delighted to stay, but Mei Changsu’s words seemed to be asking him to stay and leave at the same time, and he could not grasp his true intention, and if he made an error in judgement, he feared it would show that he had no mutual understanding with the qilin prodigy, and many thoughts flew across his mind but he could not decide on any one of them, so he only slowed his footsteps, hoping Mei Changsu would speak again.
Fortunately, the heavens smiled on him, and as the two left the study side by side, walking along the corridors to the pavilion at their center, Mei Changsu lifted his gaze to the clouds at the hazy horizon, and said quietly, “Your Highness Prince Yu does not need to be overly concerned. Even if the Duke of Qing survived this round, he is no match for Xie Yu, and so it is no great loss….”
“That may be so,” Prince Yu frowned. “But he has some weight in the court, and it is certainly better to have him than not.”
Mei Changsu smiled indifferently. “In my humble opinion, I think Your Highness should completely cast aside the Duke of Qing, and throw your support behind Prince Jing.”
“Support Prince Jing?” Prince Yu was really a little shocked. “He is a prince, and has the imperial edict to carry out his investigation, who would dare to stop him? Why would he need my support?”
“He would not, if it were only a matter of the Bin province case.” Mei Changsu had halted, and continued quietly. “But Your Highness knows that this case is only the beginning, and once it has been judged, there will immediately be an influx of a large number of similar cases making accusations against many more noble houses. Prince Jing has no experience in handling complicated matters of this nature. If at this time, Your Highness is willing to intervene, and help him quickly calm the waves of protest raised by these noble houses, and maintain the stability of His Majesty’s national affairs, how could Prince Jing not be grateful to Your Highness?”
Prince Yu’s breathing slowed, and he suddenly seemed to see a whole new direction that he had not noticed before, and a light was growing slowly in his mind. “You mean….”
Mei Changsu continued coolly, “What does the Duke of Qing has that he is worth Your Highness’ lament, could even two Dukes of Qing compare with half of a Prince Jing?”
Prince Yu’s expression jumped, and his face was flushed as he paced in a quick circle. “If I could acquire Prince Jing, then of course…but with Prince Jing’s character…I fear I would not be able to handle him….”
Mei Changsu’s gaze was like snow, piercing through Prince Yu like the blade of a knife. “Even if he cannot be handled, you must handle him. The Marquis of Ning has already chosen the Crown Prince, and besides Prince Jing, who among the military could compete against him?”
Prince Yu knew these words were not empty, and his brow had furrowed into a single line. “It is true that no one else could openly match Xie Yu. But Jingyan is stubborn, and I fear when I need to use him, he would not obey my orders and deploy his soldiers…”
Mei Changsu turned and met Prince Yu’s eyes, saying very slowly, “Why does Your Highness want to control the military? Are you preparing to force the Emperor to abdicate or to start a rebellion?”
Prince Yu’s heart stopped in fear, and he glanced around him quickly before saying furiously, “What is the meaning of these words? If I harboured any such intentions, the heavens would not tolerate me!”
“So since you are intending neither to force an abdication or start rebellion, where did the words “deploy his soldiers” come from?” Mei Changsu’s tone was like ice. “Prince Jing’s function is only to intimidate. Even if the Crown Prince has Xie Yu, or even a few other first-ranked Marquis, it would not mean anything, as long as Your Highness has Prince Jing and Princess Nihuang, and in His Majesty’s eyes, the influence you and the Crown Prince hold over the military is at least equal, so that you do not lose to him in this respect. So long as you never intend to step onto the path of treason, all of this is only a bargaining chip, and is only to put on a show for His Majesty, and will never actually need to be used.”
All of Prince Yu’s strategists often analyzed palace politics in front of him, but no one had ever come up with such a novel perspective, and he felt as if a new path was opening before him, and the turmoil in his mind was slowly beginning to brighten.
It was true, the military was not like court officials, and there was no need to gain complete control over them, because with the Emperor’s personal Yulin army in Jinling, and Meng Zhi’s strict vigilance over the city, there was no possibility of seizing the throne by force, and so, since he only needed the appearance of military power, so what was the use of total obedience?
Seeing Prince Yu’s changing expression, Mei Changsu knew that he had been moved in his heart, and the corner of his lip turned up as he casually added, “Even if we speculate wildly and say the Crown Prince chose to act rashly, once His Majesty is endangered, do you really think that Prince Jing, with his rigid and upright character, would need your orders to act?”
Chapter 47 Translator’s Notes:
This breakneck speed of translation is brought to you by a few months of a relatively leisurely schedule, and the certain knowledge that I will be much busier come November or so. And so essentially, I’m trying to get as many chapters out as I can before then. (Also, the story is sucking me in.)
Also, I love the explanations of the court official system here, if only because it finally makes sense to me! I’m still trying to figure some things out, like what the “three departments” MCS mentioned to Prince Jing before is referring to… does it mean the Ministries of Appointment, Revenue, and Justice, since these are (so far) the only court departments mentioned with the actual word ‘department’ [部] in their title? And does this mean these three are like the largest major departments of the court (as opposed to the ‘smaller’ departments with the fancy names, the translations of which I cannot for the life of me remember at this particular moment but which you can check in the chapter ‘Tea with an Old Friend’ if you want to know what I’m referring to?)
I also seem to remember this term coming up in the drama, so if anyone knows and wants to educate me, please feel free to do so in the comments. My Chinese history is really shamefully abominable (by which I mean non-existent) lol….