Such a simple sentence, but because it had come from the mouth of Mei Changsu, it carried a terrifying weight, and was not easily doubted. Prince Jing gazed at the refined scholar before him, thinking of all the ripples he had caused both openly and secretly since he had entered the capital, and couldn’t help letting out a heartfelt sigh. He wondered why one of the greatest talents in the world, this Mister Mei of Jiangzuo, had chosen himself so resolutely? Was it really only because of the prestige and respect he could gain from raising a prince currently out of favour to the throne, as he had said before?
“Did Your Highness have a particularly heavy load of military duties today?” Mei Changsu did not seem to know what he had been thinking, but was drawing his hand into his sleeve as he asked idly. “It was not early when I came today, but your meeting had not yet finished.”
“The routine matters are easily dealt with, but the meeting took longer today because a rather difficult issue has arisen, and Magistrate Gao of the Capital Magistrate Office came to request my help.”
“Another difficult problem? Magistrate Gao’s luck this year is really something,” Mei Changsu couldn’t help smiling. “But this time, it is not a problem that I have given him, so what has happened?”
“It is not anything that requires careful planning, but rather brute force,” Prince Jing replied. “A beast has appeared in the mountainous areas of the eastern outskirts, and the villagers were frightened and reported it to the Capital Magistrate Office, but they do not have enough military resources and were not able to capture it, and so came here to me to borrow soldiers. It is not anything particularly complicated, but we wanted to discuss whether it would be possible to capture the beast alive, to see what kind of a thing it is.”
“It may be the outskirts, but this is still the royal capital, how could there be a beast? How strange, once Your Highness captures it, don’t forget to let me learn something new as well.”
Prince Jing raised an eyebrow. “I had not thought Mister Su would have such an inquiring spirit….”
“Could it be that, to Your Highness, I only harbour a mind full of dark, dim schemes?” Mei Changsu teased self-mockingly, and then, feeling his legs growing stiff, he got up and took a few steps to the western window, absently reaching out a hand towards the vermilion iron bow hanging on the wall beside the window.
“Don’t touch!” Prince Jing immediately shouted, and Mei Changsu froze, murmuring to himself for a moment, then slowly lowered his arm and said lowly, without turning his head, “My apologies.”
Prince Jing also felt that he had been discourteous, and explained, a little embarrassed, “That belonged to a late friend, and when he was still living…he did not like strangers touching his belongings….”
Mei Changsu nodded indifferently and did not answer, standing in front of the window for a long moment before saying abruptly that he would be taking his leave.
Prince Jing thought that he had been angered because he would not let him touch the iron bow, and felt a little apologetic. But it was not possible to apologize, not to mention that Lin Shu’s iron bow was not something he could let others touch casually, and so he said nothing, and rose to see him out.
The two walked out of the study side by side, and the atmosphere seemed slightly awkward, with Mei Changsu seemingly not wanting to speak, and Prince Jing not accustomed to creating idle chatter to lighten the mood, and so they walked in silence until they halted together before the arms drilling ground.
In fact, there was another more direct path to the front gates, which was on the other side. But the two had chosen to walk in the opposite direction with such unspoken agreement because they had both guessed that Fei Liu would certainly be found here.
Prince Jing was a military man, and his imperial residence was different from those of the other princes, its inner courtyard was small and located far to the back, whereas his outer courtyard took up most of the residence, and aside from several arms drilling grounds for the training of soldiers, there was also a training ground for horse riding.
At the moment, the situation in the central training ground could be described as “exciting”. Although Fei Liu was only a bodyguard, his fame in Jinling was equal to that of Mei Changsu, and to some of the military generals, the refined but frail scholar had not aroused their interest nearly as much as this martial arts master with his intriguing skills and tendency to win all his fights.
And so, Tingsheng, who had originally been given the responsibility of hosting Fei Liu, had long since been relegated outside of the small circle that had formed around Fei Liu, which was entirely made up of Prince Jing’s generals.
From Fei Liu’s expressionless but glowing eyes, he was having quite a lot of fun today. Back in Jiangzuo Alliance, everyone was always busy, and seldom had there been so many people willing to train with him, not to mention that the martial arts skills of these people were really not bad, and they were all very serious, not teasing him at all!
When Prince Jing arrived, those with sharp eyes had already opened a path through the crowd, and were bowing in greeting. Prince Jing saw that Mei Changsu did not show any intention of interfering, and so waved a hand and said, “Continue as you were.”
Fei Liu’s next set of opponents was a pair of twin brothers wielding pikes, not over twenty five or twenty six years of age, who seemed to be military officers by their apparel, and who were both tall and strong. Their martial dance began fierce and radiant, like the movements of two tigers, and they moved in perfect chemistry with one another. If they had been on the battlefield, they would surely have made formidable enemies, but unfortunately, against martial arts masters, this set of skills were not enough, and Fei Liu was not someone who would treat one opponent lightly and not another, and so in no time, he had sent one brother flying one way and the second brother another, and his face seemed to draw taut for a moment, likely thinking that this round of opponents had been too weak and not much fun at all.
“Don’t step up if you’re going to be like those two, let’s show His Highness something good!” After this course shout, a tall, broad figure appeared before Fei Liu, a long-handled curved blade in each hand, giving off an intimidating and formidable air before he had even begun to attack.
“General Qi! General Qi!” The crowd immediately began to chant.
Fourth-ranked military official General Qi Meng was one of Prince Jing’s loyal subordinates who had followed him for many years, and was well-respected in his army, so as soon as he appeared, the atmosphere became even more excited, so that even Fei Liu felt that this was no ordinary opponent, and a hint of joy rose in his eyes.
Amidst the loud cries of encouragement, Prince Jing stood steadily with his hands behind his back, his expression indifferent.
This was because he knew that Qi Meng simply was not Fei Liu’s match.
Indeed, at the beginning, because Fei Liu was very interested in those two strange curved blades, he went easy on the first few moves, but after he had gotten a good look, his movements suddenly became much fiercer, and though the foundation of Qi Meng’s martial skills were deep and strong, he was simply no match against this kind of natural prodigious strength. He took a few steps back, then suddenly twisted the back of his blade, and a bolt shot out from the weapon, flying like a comet straight for Fei Liu. This move was Qi Meng’s trump card, he had defeated many enemies with it, and it had given him outstanding service. But Fei Liu didn’t even look alarmed as he stretched out a hand and sent the bolt flying into the trunk of a nearby tree. Qi Meng’s eyes widened in shock and he shouted in surprise before the back of his blade twisted again, and another bolt shot out.
Mei Changsu’s expression did not change, but the dark pupils contracted forcefully for a moment.
This was because, this time, the bolt was flying straight for his throat.
If it had been Lin Shu, one flying bolt would not have meant anything, but now, with his entire body weakened to such a state, he would not have been able to beat even the most ordinary of fighters, and so dodging a bolt like this was simply impossible.
Since it was impossible to dodge, then why bother dodging, and so Mei Changsu stood in his original position, unmoving.
Fei Liu’s figure had already become like an arrow himself, speeding towards him, but the distance between him and the bolt was too great, and he could not reach it in time.
The razor-sharp bolt was finally caught in the hand of Prince Jing, its edge less than four finger-breadths away from Mei Changsu’s neck, but its direction had already changed subtly, and even if Prince Jing had not reacted, it would probably still have only grazed the skin.
Mei Changsu lightly gestured to Fei Liu, and though no one understood what it meant, they saw Fei Liu stop and stand still.
Qi Meng scratched his head and laughed. “I miscalculated, I miscalculated, you scholarly types aren’t used to seeing knives and weapons, eh, did I scare you?”
Mei Changsu’s expression was like frost, his gaze falling like ice needles onto Qi Meng’s face.
This kind of scene was not rare in armies , and shows of strength were common against newcomers, against outsiders who had been transferred into the army, or simply against a person you didn’t like, and if they performed well in the test, they could gain the beginnings of respect and acknowledgement.
Lin Shu had come across a similar episode before too. That year, Father had taken a weak, frail scholar in his forties who had been serving in the Ministry of War without any real position, and brought him into the Chiyan Army into an important position, and the young and hot-blooded Young Marshal had purposefully shattered his sword, letting a fragment fly towards that thin figure in order to test his courage.
That time, the rod of Father’s punishment had fallen especially heavily, and he had been beaten so badly he could hardly rise out of bed for three days afterwards.
Mei Changsu knew that Prince Jing remembered the incident, and remembered too the words his father had spoken to him in rebuke.
At the scene of the punishment, the target himself, Nie Zhen, had not stepped forward to plead for mercy on his behalf, because he knew that the reason for Lin Shu’s harsh punishment was not that he had sought to provoke Nie Zhen, but because, when he had let the fragments of his sword fly at Nie Zhen, His Highness Prince Qi had been standing beside Nie Zhen.
Just as, when the bolt had come flying towards him just now, Prince Jing had been standing beside him.
Although Qi Meng had not harboured any malicious intent, although his target had certainly not been Prince Jing, he had nevertheless turned the blade of his weapon in the direction of his own lord.
If Prince Jing only sought to maintain his current position, if he were to become merely a great military general in the future, then the scene could end in laughter.
But now, the situation was changing. Once his heart and ambition turned towards the most respected and honoured seat in Da Liang, he must begin to purposefully nurture the kind of air befitting a sovereign, and it must be an air that could never be ignored or offended in any way.
Seeing the iron-like expression on Prince Jing’s face, the laughing Qi Meng felt more and more uneasy, and as fear began to grow in his heart, his gaze turned inadvertently towards his left.
All of Prince Jing’s generals of relatively high rank stood gathered there, and their expressions were nervous, one of them gesturing for Qi Meng to kneel.
“I was impulsive and reckless, and have offended the gentleman, pray overlook my coarse manners.” Qi Meng thought that Prince Jing was angry because he had acted discourteously against his favoured Su Zhe, and so immediately bowed and apologized to Mei Changsu.
“You do not need to apologize to me,” Mei Changsu smiled coldly, his words falling like poisoned arrows. “In any case, it is Prince Jing who has lost face here, not I.”
He did not pay any notice to the ripples his words had raised, but turned his cool gaze from Qi Meng to Prince Jing. “I have always admired Prince Jing’s elegant and graceful governing of his army, and never could have thought that I would be so disappointed upon seeing them for myself today. A mob with no respect for the law and order of their lord – it is small wonder that they have not gained the favour of His Majesty. Daring to fire weapons at Your Highness Prince Jing – what kind of rules are in place here? I can only imagine that the respect and obedience Your Highness commands from your subordinates still cannot compare to a mere jianghu chief like myself. My eyes have truly been opened today……I will take my leave now, farewell!”
Before he had even finished half of his speech, a cold sweat had broken out over Qi Meng’s forehead, and he fell forward in a kneel. Prince Jing looked at him coldly, not saying a word, his face dark, and everyone around him kept silent in fear, slowly all dropping to their knees as well, and even Tingsheng, who did not really understand what was going on, was frightened by the solemn atmosphere and followed their example. And so, when Mei Changsu led Fei Liu out of the manor amidst the terrified silence, no one dared to stop him.
This was because everyone knew, although Su Zhe’s words had been harsh, not a single word had been false.
Although in terms of comparing martial ability, this kind of testing of outsiders was commonplace, whether Prince Jing was present or not made all the difference.
“Your Highness,” in the end, it was the young general Zhan Ying, the highest ranked of Prince Jing’s army, who spoke up lowly. “Your subordinates know we have done wrong, pray Your Highness have mercy, we will accept our punishment.”
Qi Meng thrust his head down in a bow and said in a trembling voice, “Pray Your Highness name my punishment.”
Prince Jing’s gaze swept coldly over the kneeling soldiers, all of whom had lowered their heads to avoid his gaze, and finally returned to Qi Meng.
Mei Changsu had used the sharpest words to leave him this formidable task: the strengthening of the interior of the imperial Jing household¹.
Since he had chosen to embark on the quest for the throne, there were more changes that could occur at a moment’s notice than anyone could imagine, and while he used the ‘land infringement’ case to capitalize on other advantages, at the same time, he would have to find a way to reforge the entire imperial Jing household into a piece of solid iron.
For the first time, Prince Jing felt the heaviness of the weight on his shoulders, but because of it, he also stood straighter.
“Qi Meng behaved rashly, without the manners and courtesy due to his superiors, and is sentenced to two hundred strokes of the rod and demoted to the rank of centurion. Zhan Ying, you will oversee the punishment.”
With these words, Prince Jing turned and strode away, leaving behind the crowd standing at a loss on the training grounds.
¹’household’ is technically the wrong word here because it doesn’t seem to include his army (the direct translation is simply “interior”), and he means more the entire Jing manor (everyone who works for Prince Jing), but saying “the interior of the imperial Jing manor” makes it sound like MCS wants him to redecorate or something
Chapter 50 Translator’s Notes:
I remember chaikat saying in her NIF (which, incidentally, you should really read because it’s a large part of why I decided to start translating the novel, and also because you can have a preview of all the scenes I’m looking forward to translating….T____T) how much more sense this scene makes in the novel than in the drama, not because of any fault of the drama, but simply because being able to see inside MCS’s head and understanding the context for what Qi Meng did makes the whole scene so much more logical. Qi Meng just seemed plain stupid in the drama for what he did, but here, suddenly, it makes a lot more sense. And MCS’s harsh comment before he left makes so much more sense too – it’s really just another lesson (or piece of homework) for Prince Jing, lol.