It took two whole hours for Mei Changsu to see his guest out. Before climbing onto his palanquin, Prince Yu purposefully pulled him out from under the cover of the doorway, and grasped his shoulder warmly as he urged, “Your health is not good, don’t linger here in the wind.”
Mei Changsu looked at him and thought, I was in the shelter when you pulled me out, why do you bother putting on this caring facade? But he only smiled and replied, “It is truly cold out here, Your Highness, hurry and enter your palanquin, and forgive me for not seeing you out.”
Prince Yu had fulfilled his intention of giving this show of generosity and kindness on the street outside the manor and was deeply satisfied, and as the snow and wind was blowing against his face uncomfortably, he gave up any further pretense and turned to climb into the palanquin.
As soon as the palanquin was lifted, Mei Changsu turned and reentered the manor, then walked quickly to the shadows beside the walls and vomited a few times, as if he were trying to expel some foulness from within himself.
He turned his head to see Fei Liu standing there, head cocked and eyes wide, his expression full of concern.
“It’s alright,” his lip turned up involuntarily as he took the youth’s hand. “I was just playing with a poisonous snake, and afterwards, became a little nauseous…”
“Poison snake?!” Fei Liu was instantly on the alert, looking sharply all around him, trying to find this poisonous snake.
“It’s already crawled out,” Mei Changsu couldn’t help smiling. “No matter, Su gege has known this poisonous snake for a long time, and knows where its poison is hidden, and so won’t be bitten.”
“That’s right, with our Fei Liu here, who would dare to bite me?” Mei Changsu stroked the youth’s head, his voice growing quieter. “And anyway…Su gege himself…has now become a poisonous snake too….”
Fei Liu’s delicate eyebrows furrowed, and though he did not understand the meaning of Mei Changsu’s words, he felt the sorrow behind them, and immediately leaned against him, shaking his head vigorously. “Not!”
“Not a poisonous snake? Then what am I?” Mei Changsu knew that his emotions had affected Fei Liu and he hurriedly composed himself, then said with a smile, “A poisonous spider? A poisonous lizard? Or a scorpion?”
Fei Liu was growing upset, his handsome face drawn tight as he shouted, “None of them!”
Mei Changsu laughed as he patted the youth’s back comfortingly. “Alright, alright, none of them… let us go back to the house, tomorrow, Fei Liu has to go out with Su gege, alright?”
Fei Liu nodded. “Ng! Hot spring!”
“No, not to the hot springs.” Mei Changsu did not wonder how Fei Liu had heard about the hot springs, but smiled as he brushed at the flakes of snow on his forehead. “Have you lost your little wooden eagle yet? Tomorrow, we’re going to go see Tingsheng.”
As soon as he heard that they would be going to see Tingsheng, Fei Liu stopped his half-play half-training activities for the day, and started searching earnestly through every room in the manor. Like all young boys, Fei Liu did not like to clean up after himself, and even a particularly beloved and interesting toy would somehow disappear after a day or two of play. From past experience, it was no use looking for toys that had been lost, because they would usually miraculously turn up from some strange place after awhile. But this time was different, and although Fei Liu had some mental deficits, he still knew that they had only just moved in and so there was virtually no chance of the little eagle turning up by itself in this new manor, and so he thought it would be better to look for it himself.
“Fei Liu, it’s time to eat.”
“Fei Liu, if it’s lost, it’s lost, and you still have to eat. Tingsheng won’t ask you about your little eagle tomorrow, and even if he asks, you don’t have to really tell him you’ve lost it. Have you forgotten what Lin Chen gege taught you? Children who cannot lie are not good children….”
Fei Liu flew into a humiliated rage. “Still cannot!”
“Still haven’t learned to lie?” Mei Changsu bit back a laugh and continued in a soothing voice, “Never mind, take your time. Our Fei Liu is so smart, he can learn such difficult martial arts, how could he not learn how to lie? Don’t worry, if Lin Chen gege laughs at you, Su gege will hit him for you.”
If Xiao Jingrui were here, he would certainly protest against the Jiangzuo Alliance’s child-rearing methods, but unfortunately, he was not, and so Fei Liu did not realize there was any problem with the way he was being taught, and only thought of Lin Chen gege‘s teasing expression, and screwed up his face unhappily.
“Come on, come and eat,” Mei Changsu went over and pulled the youth into the room. “There’s yellow chicken bought especially for you, see, have these two drumsticks. How about this, tomorrow, you can bring a present to Tingsheng too, then everything will be fair, right?”
Fei Liu’s eyes brightened as he looked up, his mouth full of chicken. “What?”
“What present? Let me think…” Mei Changsu rubbed his chin. “It should be something you like most….”
“You like Su gege most? Well, we certainly can’t give him that….” Mei Changsu laughed. “Then how about that gold-silk vest?”
“Why not this time?”
“You don’t like that gold-silk vest?” Mei Changsu tightened his lip against the smile threatening to burst forth. “But Fei Liu, you don’t like that vest because your martial arts are good, so you don’t need to wear it for protection, and that’s why it’s always lain forgotten at the bottom of your clothes chest. But Tingsheng is different, he is young, and his martial arts are poor, and if he were to be bullied, as long he wore that vest, he wouldn’t get hurt even if someone hit him, so he would certainly like this gift.”
Fei Liu’s eyes widened as he thought seriously for a moment, but he had always believed Mei Changsu’s words without a doubt, and so soon he was nodding.
“That vest is in the box under your bed, take it out before you go to sleep tonight, and don’t forget to bring it with you tomorrow.”
With the problem of the present solved, Fei Liu’s worries disappeared, and with his usual ravenous appetite, he devoured seven- or eight-tenths of the dishes laid out on the table, so that by the time he set down his bowl, Mei Changsu had long since retreated off to one side and had finished several pages of his book.
The brazier in the house was burning merrily and Fei Liu’s cheeks were red, so he took off his outer coat, padding over in his undershirt, and lay down with his head resting on Mei Changsu’s knee, idly playing with the fur on his fur coat.
This was one of Fei Liu’s favourite ways to relax.
But he had not relaxed for long when he lifted his head and turned a questioning gaze towards Mei Changsu.
“Go then.” Mei Changsu said the words indifferently, and did not add his usual warning: “but don’t hurt anyone.”
Fei Liu’s slender but firm figure disappeared into the night, and soon, sounds of disturbance were heard from the roof, but they were not very intense, and did not last long. Less than an hour later, the youth had returned to the room, his whole body still impeccably clean from head to toe, carrying only a faint reek of blood in his wake.
For the sake of peace and quiet in the future, there must be a strict and violent beginning. No matter who it was this time, they must still receive a warning in blood – Su Zhe’s manor was even deadlier than the Marquis of Ning’s residence, and those who came in such a way must be willing to pay the price with their lives.
“In a few days, the traps in the courtyard will be set, and Uncle Li¹ and the rest will move in.” Mei Changsu peeled a tangerine, and fed a piece to Fei Liu. “And then, there won’t be many people who will dare to come in without permission, how about that?”
Hearing that no one would trespass in the future, Fei Liu chewed at the tangerine in his mouth, his gaze full of disappointment.
“No more trespassers is also a good thing, Fei Liu can paint in peace and quiet, don’t you also love to paint?”
“How about this, since you love painting but also love excitement, Su gege will find a chance for you to fight Uncle Meng, do you want that?”
“Want!” Fei Liu’s eyes glowed as he opened his mouth for the next piece of tangerine.
“Alright, the fruit is done, it’s time to go to bed.” Mei Changsu smilingly pushed Fei Liu upright. “Go, and on your way, tell Aunt Zhang to bring me some hot water.”
Fei Liu obediently got up, reached out an arm to hug Mei Changsu, then went to the side building and called for Aunt Zhang to bring the water. He carried a full basin into his own room and washed his face and his feet, and had just jumped into bed when he thought of something, and dragged out a large chest from under his bed. He ruffled in it for a few moments and pulled out a gold-thread vest, then his fingers brushed against something hard, and he felt for it curiously and found that it was the little wooden eagle Tingsheng had sent him.
With one hand clutching the vest and the other around the little eagle, he fell back into bed, his eyes wide with bewilderment, perhaps wondering how the little eagle could have fallen into the bottom of the chest. He turned over twice in his pillow, but before he could turn a third time, he had already slipped into the sweet world of dreams.
The next day, Mei Changsu got up early but did not leave immediately, instead staying in his room burning incense and playing his zither, and after he had delayed for some time, enough time for Prince Jing to have finished his morning exercises and dealt with his routine military affairs, he finally ordered for his palanquin to be brought and called over to Fei Liu, “let’s go.”
Although the back walls of the Su Manor and Prince Jing’s residence were not far apart, if one were to travel by the main doors, he would have to leave the manor, turn left, walk down a long road, turn right, walk down another long road, turn left again, and walk down yet another long road before seeing the plain but imposing gates of the imperial Jing residence.
Mei Changsu got off his palanquin at the gates of the manor and handed over his notice of visit, and after waiting a little while, a military-looking man came out to lead him inside. Prince Jing had not personally come out to receive him, but was waiting inside at Huying hall. Because the notice had mentioned visiting Tingsheng, the child had also been summoned and was standing off to one side. Having not seen him for some time, Mei Changsu saw that Tingsheng had grown quite a bit taller, his demeanor no longer as frightened or cowed as it had been, and he was dressed in clean cotton robes which, although not luxurious, looked soft and warm. He did not look very like his father, Prince Qi, but when he smiled, he gave one a feeling of seeing someone familiar.
As soon as Mei Changsu and Fei Liu appeared, Tingsheng started to smile, but he had always been quiet, and had recently begun to receive rather strict training, and so did not behave as excitably as children usually did, but stood there quietly and waited for Prince Jing and Mei Changsu to finish their polite greetings before stepping forward to bow. “Tingsheng greets Mister, and Fei Liu gege.”
Prince Jing frowned, as if he did not like to see Tingsheng kneeling to Su Zhe, but remembering that he had been Tingsheng’s benefactor, he did not say anything.
Fei Liu had always been the youngest in the Jiangzuo Alliance, and so was delighted to be called gege, and immediately pulled out the gold-threaded vest and pushed it into Tingsheng’s hands. “For you!”
Tingsheng only felt something smooth and soft thrust into his hands, and when he held it out, he realized it was a vest, but did not recognize the material it had been made with. However, because it was from Fei Liu, he was very happy, and thanked him with a broad smile.
But although Tingsheng did not know the material, Prince Jing took one look and recognized it for the treasure it was – a prized jianghu gold-threaded vest, which would withstand water and flame, not to mention swords and knives. His brow immediately furrowed and he said to Mei Changsu, “Gold-threaded garments are very rare, this gift is too precious, Tingsheng cannot accept it.”
“Why are you telling me?” Mei Changsu gave him an incredulous look in return. “Fei Liu gave it to him, Your Highness must speak to Fei Liu.”
Prince Jing balked, looking at Fei Liu’s cold expression, and knowing it would be impossible to explain the matter to the youth, he could only keep silent as he waved Mei Changsu into the hall.
¹he’s using the title Fei Liu would use; he means Li Gang
Chapter 48 Translator’s Notes:
LIN CHEN AND MCS’S PARENTING SKILLS LOLLLLLL I CANNOT. Somebody save poor Fei Liu. Jingrui, I nominate you.