“You useless thing, get out of my sight! All of you, get out!” The furious shout sounded from Prince Yu’s study, and two servant girls came stumbling out, one of them with her skirt half soaked in tea, and the other holding several fragments of a shattered tea cup in her hand, both pale and trembling in fear, with even their hair in a mess after their frenzied escape.
“What has happened to the Prince?” The two servant girls raised their heads when they heard the gentle voice, and then hurriedly fell forward in a kneel.
“Princess Consort¹, the Prince said the tea was too hot…it is your servants’ fault for not preparing it well enough….”
Princess Consort Yu’s brow raised and she hurried to the study, pushed open the closed door, and entered.
“Who is that? I told you all to get out, get out!”
“Prince….” Princess Consort Yu said quietly, “Anger hurts the body, pray the Prince take care of your honoured self.”
Prince Yu balked and turned around, forced down his anger, and said, “Oh, it’s you. Is anything wrong?”
“The new year is approaching, I have prepared the list of new year’s gifts for Father Emperor and Mother Empress, and came to have the Prince look over it.”
Prince Yu reached out a hand to receive the yellow piece of paper his wife handed him and quickly scanned it before returning it to her. “You have always been the best at pleasing Mother, and make her happy every year, so let the gifts this year be arranged according to your will.”
“I understand.” Princess Consort Yu tucked the piece of paper back into her sleeve, then said slowly, “These servants of our manor have been poorly taught, it is my fault, please don’t be angry at them.”
“What does it have to do with you? It is their clumsiness and stupidity….”
Princess Consort Yu put a delicate hand on her husband’s arm, and asked gently, “What is the Prince upset about? Perhaps you can tell me, and let me share the burden.”
“It is not anything… they are external matters, you would not understand even if I told you….” Prince Yu patted her hand and said warmly, “Do not worry. You must be tired too, go rest.”
Princess Consort Yu delicately bit her crimson lip, and said lowly, “If it is because of Miss Banruo….”
“Where have your thoughts got to?” Prince Yu raised an eyebrow. “I am troubled over the concerns of the kingdom, you do not need to bring marital affairs into this.”
“Actually… I can go speak with Miss Banruo, although it is the rank of imperial consort²,as long as it pleases the Prince, I would never cause her any trouble. Even if the Prince were to raise her position in the future, I would also….”
“Speaking nonsense again!” Prince Yu glared at her angrily, but, seeing her grow pale, he wrapped an arm around her and drew her into his embrace. “Alright, I have said this many times, you are you, and Banruo is Banruo, and you will always be my only Princess Consort, so stop finding things to worry about. I am still relying on you to please the Empress in the palace, and if you are unhappy yourself, how can you go and show respect and piety on my behalf?”
“I’m sorry….” Princess Consort Yu wrapped her arms around her husband’s waist, leaning close against his chest. “You are so good to me, I wish I could be smarter and more capable, and could share more of your burdens….”
“You’re always thinking about this kind of nonsense, this is not good.” Prince Yu gently pushed her away and stroked her hair. “Go then, and let me think in peace.”
Princess Consort Yu nodded and curtsied, then slowly turned and left. She had just walked to the well outside of the study when she came across Mister Tang, the best of the strategists of Prince Yu’s residence, and halted in her steps.
“Princess Consort Yu.” Mister Tang bent forward in a bow.
“Please rise. I was just looking for you.” Princess Consort Yu raised a jade-like hand. “The Prince is in a bad mood, do you think we should ask Miss Qin to come to consult on the situation?”
Mister Tang shook his head. “This time, the problem lies in the palace, and Miss Banruo cannot help.”
“The palace? What has happened in the palace?”
“The Princess Consort does not know? The Emperor has decreed that the newly demoted Concubine Yue will be restored to Consort, and ordered her to participate in the sacrificial rites.”
Princess Consort Yue was taken aback. “The lady Yue is pardoned…what did the Empress say?”
“The imperial edict was issued directly from the imperial announcer, without any warning, and the Empress did not know anything, so what could she say?”
“So that’s how it happened…the lady Yue has served in the palace for over a decade, the Emperor is likely acting out of old affection….”
Mister Tang knew that the Princess Consort Yu was pure and innocent of heart, and so did not explain any further, but simply smiled.
“Well then, I must trouble Mister to urge the Prince, since everything has already been decided, there is no use in being troubled over the situation.”
“Yes, my lady.”
“And ask him not to worry about the Inner Palace, I will be going directly to the palace to visit the Empress.”
Mister Tang said with a smile, “The Prince is fortunate to have such a capable helper in the Princess Consort.”
“You flatter me,” Princess Consort Yu replied modestly, before continuing on her way. Mister Tang hurried to the side of the road and bowed until she had disappeared into the distance. Then, he narrowed his eyes and murmured to himself, “Consort Yue has been restored to her position, I wonder if that qilin prodigy who was responsible for pulling her down from her rank of noble consort is as angry as the Prince?”
In contrast to Mister Tang’s expectations, after hearing the news of Consort Yue’s pardon, Mei Changsu did not give any particular reaction, but stayed huddled beside his brazier, turning the pages of the report from Miaoyin House, and feeding each page into the fire as he finished reading. Fei Liu squatted beside him, watching the flames rise and fall, and seemed to be enjoying himself immensely.
The heavy cotton curtain was drawn aside, the roaring flames dying down a little from the cold wind that blew into the room, and Fei Liu turned his furious gaze onto the intruder.
Meng Zhi did not seem to notice Fei Liu’s hostile expression, but strode towards Mei Changsu, saying, “You’re looking pretty idle….”
“There is cold air lingering around you, don’t come too close to me. Go and roast a bit first, and come back when you’re well cooked.”
Meng Zhi didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Have you still not heard the news? Guess where I’ve just come from.”
“The imperial Mu residence.”
He had guessed correctly on the first try, and Meng Zhi couldn’t help raising an eyebrow, and came forward to pinch Mei Changsu’s cheek, saying, “Xiao Shu, you’ve become more and more like a devil since your return, are you sure you are still living?”
Fei Liu’s palm came flying over. “Let go!”
“You’ve found me out,” Mei Changsu answered, laughing. “I’m a ghost, are you scared?”
“If everyone could return, even as a ghost, I would still be happy,” Meng Zhi sighed. “You guessed right, I have just come from the imperial Mu residence. The little Lord Mu is so angry, he’ll be leaving teeth marks on his cedar chair soon.”
“Good to chew!” Fei Liu suddenly spoke up, and Meng Zhi eyed him uncomprehendingly.
“Our Fei Liu is right, cedar wood is soft, and good for chewing, you wouldn’t need to bite very hard to leave teeth marks in it….” Mei Changsu patted the youth’s head in approval.
“Oi, you two….” Meng Zhi looked at them helplessly. “I’m being serious!”
“Fei Liu, Uncle Meng says you’re not being serious….” Mei Changsu prodded.
Fei Liu widened his eyes in confusion.
“Not being serious means being like Lin Chen gege. Don’t you remember how the uncles in the alliance were always scolding Lin Chen gege for not being serious?”
When Fei Liu heard that this uncle had dared to compare him to Lin Chen, he leaped to his feet in fury, flinging his palm out in a powerful strike. Although Meng Zhi was not afraid, he still had to use considerable effort to fend him off, and in the blink of an eye, the two were exchanging blows across the room.
“Xiao Shu, tell him to stop, I have serious things to discuss with you!” Meng Zhi yelled angrily.
Mei Changsu sat smiling, wrapped in his fur coat, and called out encouragingly, “Go on, Fei Liu, it’s not often you get the chance to train with Uncle Meng….”
Meng Zhi saw that his playfulness had been aroused, and couldn’t help feeling a hidden joy well up in his heart, because no matter what, it meant there was still a shadow of Lin Shu in him, and that was a relief, not to mention that exchanging blows with Fei Liu was always an immensely enjoyable task, and so he took a breath and settled himself for a proper fight.
Fei Liu’s martial arts had always been strange and difficult to grasp, and against people like Xia Dong and Tuoba Hao who practiced a more predictable and conventional style, he naturally held the advantage, but once he came up against Meng Zhi’s circular and grounded style of martial arts, he was blocked at every stroke, not to mention that in terms of inner strength, Fei Liu, who was young in age and had been severely injured before, was still far from Meng Zhi, who had been solidly trained in the traditional Shaolin style.
But it was because he was obviously not Meng Zhi’s match that Fei Liu’s fighting spirit burned all the more fiercely, and there was no other thought in his mind except a wholly focused determination on the fight before him, and after a while, Meng Zhi realized something astounding.
Fei Liu could remember his opponent’s strength and the characteristic features of his qi in the middle of the fight, and then immediately adjust his moves accordingly.
In other words, once you had used a certain move against him once, you could forget the idea of using it again, unless you increased its strength or changed the direction of the flow of its qi, otherwise, Fei Liu would block your attack and force you to use another quickly to save yourself.
It was hard to believe that such an astounding learning ability could be found in a youth with mental deficits. But perhaps it was because his intelligence was restricted in some areas that his astonishing and prodigious martial arts had been aroused.
“Panicking yet?” There was laughter in Mei Changsu’s voice. “Meng dage, it looks like you’ll have to be even stronger.”
Meng Zhi laughed and replied, “There’s no use trying to help him, when have I been so easy to distract? It’s early yet if he thinks he can beat me!” Although he had stopped to speak, his breath had not been disturbed in the slightest, and the Shaolin energy around him intensified as he brought his palms together into a circular position and headed towards Fei Liu. The youth’s forehead trembled and his figure suddenly blurred, disappearing from its original position and reappearing behind Meng Zhi. But although he had moved quickly, he was somehow a beat behind the slowly turning Meng Zhi, and as back suddenly became front, Fei Liu’s palms were caught by Meng Zhi, who gave a powerful thrust and sent him flying backwards, and though Fei Liu flipped through the air a few times to regain his balance, he still landed somewhat unsteadily on his feet.
“Never mind, never mind,” Mei Changsu beckoned to the youth. “If you can’t beat him this time, we will try again next time.”
Meng Zhi made a face at him. “Xiao Shu, are you using me to provoke this child?”
“What if I am?” A bright smile lit Mei Changsu’s face. “You are not so easily insulted, so isn’t it fun to train a bit with our Fei Liu? Look at how cute our Fei Liu is….”
Meng Zhi choked. Beautiful, certainly, but cute…?? But in truth, he really liked this exceedingly talented youth, and did not mind exchanging a few blows now and then, so he smiled broadly and walked over to sit down beside Mei Changsu, saying, “You don’t look surprised at all that Consort Yue’s position has been restored.”
“What is there to be surprised about?” Mei Changsu said indifferently. “Even if Consort Yue had committed an even greater crime, it was still not against the Emperor himself, and this Emperor has never cared much about other people’s suffering. Do you still not know this?”
“Do you really have to talk about His Majesty like that?” Meng Zhi looked a bit awkward. “No matter what, His Majesty is still His Majesty, and anyway, there are the year end’s sacrificial rites to consider.”
“What do the year end’s sacrificial rites have to do with anything?” Mei Changu laughed coldly. “Does the Crown Prince not have an imperial mother³? After sprinkling the ceremonial wine, he should kneel and touch the robes of the Emperor and the Empress, that would be true filial piety. Where is the difficulty in that?”
“Ah?” Meng Zhi stared blankly. “Then, all these years….”
“In the sacrificial rites of the previous years, it was because Consort Yue was a first-ranked noble consort, with a nine-pearl phoenix crown as well, and stood with the Empress beside the Emperor, and so when the Crown Prince knelt to touch her robe, everyone thought it natural. Even the Ministry of Rituals, which is supposed to be the most sensitive to these ceremonies, did not correct the Crown Prince’s actions, and so of course no one else even noticed that anything was amiss.”
“What you say seems to make sense…” Meng Zhi scratched his head. “There are so many rules of the rituals, the Ministry of Rites should be most familiar with how each of them should be interpreted, so why has Old Minister Chen never said anything….”
“Chen Yuancheng?” Mei Changsu’s smile became even colder. “The supposedly neutral Ministry of Rites, the Old Minister who ‘only trusts in the rites’…haha…this is the funniest part….”
Meng Zhi stared at Mei Changsu. “Xiao Shu, you mean….”
“Ever since Chen Yuancheng’s only grandson deserted on the front lines, and Xie Yu hid his capital offense and protected him, this old minister has become a dog of the Marquis of Ning… Ai, and no wonder, after all, who can avoid the debts owed for the sake of sons and grandsons? He Jingzhong is no exception, and neither is Chen Yuancheng.”
Meng Zhi’s mouth had fallen open in shock, and he stared dazedly for a long moment.
“Chen Yuancheng knows that, according to the rules of the rituals, as long as the Empress is present, Consort Yue is not important, but he does not dare say this. Firstly, he has received Xie Yue’s orders, and secondly, he knows the Emperor is only finding an excuse to pardon Consort Yue….” Mei Changsu gave a derisive, cold laugh. “Both of these so-called honest and loyal old ministers of two dynasties are, in the end, only a pair of old foxes.”
¹another word meaning Princess! I think I will translate it as ‘Princess Consort’ to avoid even more confusion lol, unless anyone has a better suggestion?
²she uses the term ce fei [側妃], which google tells me is one rank below wang fei [王妃] i.e. Princess Consort. I don’t know. The Inner Palace ranks are confusing. Anyone made a study of this?
Chapter 54 Translator’s Notes:
I love love love that casual camaraderie and teasing between MCS (or here, Lin Shu) and Meng Zhi. It’s a glimpse of the way Lin Shu grew up, and all the more sad when juxtapositioned with his usual cold strategizing…. (Also: HE IS SUCH A TROLL LOL)
And thank goodness there are chapters like this to balance out the last one lol.
TWO MORE CHAPTERS TIL HEARTBREAK