When Physician Yan arrived hurriedly, Mei Changsu had already taken one of the pills specially made for him by Doctor Xun Zhen and was standing fully dressed in the middle of the room, waiting for Fei Lou to add coal to his little portable brazier. When he saw the old physician widen his eyes and puff out his beard in surprise, the great chief smiled apologetically and said, “Physician Yan, I must go out personally today, but don’t worry, I have put on many layers, and Fei Liu and Li Gang will be with me, and the wind and snow have already stopped, so there should not be much danger….”
“Whether there is danger or not is for me to decide!” Physician Yan stood guard in front of the door, blocking it with his body.
“I know what you are thinking, but don’t think that Zhen fellow’s heart protection pills are some kind of magic drug, they will get you through a crisis but they won’t save your life. You may have only caught a chill, but your body is not the same as other people’s, and now you still refuse to take care of it, and say you want to run around outside in the cold? What happens if they bring you back lying on a stretcher? Are you trying to mar my good name?”
“Physician Yan, let me go out today, I promise I will return in good shape, and from now on, I will listen to everything you say….” Mei Changsu spoke gently, smiling as he made a gesture to Fei Liu. “Fei Liu, open the door.”
“Hey….” White clouds of steam were blowing from the mouth of the frustrated Physician Yan, but in the end, he was not a martial arts master, and so Fei Liu swiftly lifted him over his shoulder and moved him to one side, as Mei Changsu took advantage of the distraction to sneak out the door, hurrying onto the palanquin Li Gang had already prepared, and, with a quiet word to the palanquin bearers, he was lifted and borne away from the exasperated cries of the old physician behind him.
Perhaps it was the effect of the drug, or the warmth and comfort of the palanquin, but Mei Changsu felt quite well, his mind was clear, and his hands and feet were not as weak as they had been yesterday, and as for the situation he was about to face, he had already made adequate preparations.
The palanquin bearers were walking quickly, but they could still only walk, and so it would take some time for them to arrive at their destination. Mei Changsu closed his eyes, on the one hand conserving his energy, and on the other, going through his thoughts once again.
If it were only a matter of stopping him, there would be nothing challenging about what he was about to do. The difficulty lay in controlling the deeper currents without destroying the peaceful facade on the surface.
About two hours later, the palanquin stopped at the door of a graceful and elegant manor. Li Gang knocked on the gates, and not long after his name card had been handed into the residence, its owner came hurrying out.
“Brother Su, why have you come so suddenly? Quick, come in.”
Mei Changsu emerged from the palanquin, supported by Fei Liu, and looked at the young man standing before him. “You’re dressed very smartly.”
“We were playing polo and it got hot, so we took off some of our outer layers, and now we’re stinking of sweat, Brother Su, you mustn’t laugh at me.” Yan Yujin smiled as he accompanied Mei Changsu into the manor. They walked through two doors, and a vast field lay before them, on which several young people were practising their batting skills. “Brother Su, why have you suddenly come here?” Xiao Jingrui ran over, astonishment written all over his face, his question identical to Yan Yujin’s just a moment ago.
“There hasn’t been much going on lately, and I wanted to come out for a stroll.” Mei Changsu looked at the two inseparable friends standing before him, and gave a small smile. “I have been in the city for so long, and still have not come to pay my visits to Yujin’s residence, my manners have been lacking. Yujin, is your esteemed father here?”
“He has not come back yet.” Yan Yujin shrugged, his voice light. “My father’s attention has been completely absorbed by those Daoist priests, and he always leaves early and returns late, but I think he will be back soon.”
“You go and have fun then, there’s no need to take care of me. I’ll just watch from the side, and learn a thing or two.”
“Why joke around, Brother Su? Why don’t you come play with us?” Yan Yujin suggested, excited.
“You’re the one joking, not me. Look at me, if I came with you, would I be hitting the ball or would the ball be hitting me?” Mei Changsu laughed and shook his head.
“Then let Fei Liu come and play, he would certainly enjoy it.” Yan Yujin’s eyes shone. “Come on, what colour horse does Xiao Fei Liu like, tell Yan gege.”
Yan Yujin darted away, busying himself finding a horse and harness for Fei Liu. But Xiao Jingrui stayed by Mei Changsu’s side, asking concernedly, “Brother Su, are you feeling any better? There are some seats over there, let’s go over and sit.”
Mei Changsu nodded and asked, smiling, “Where’s Xie Bi? Didn’t he come over with you?”
“Second Brother has never liked playing polo, and anyway, there are things in the manor he must take care of now that the new year is approaching, and these few days are always the busiest in the whole year.” Mei Changsu saw that Xiao Jingrui was putting on his fur coat as he spoke, and said hurriedly, “You don’t need to keep me company, go and play with them.”
“I’ve just about finished anyway.” There was a warm smile on Xiao Jingrui’s face. “I think it will be interesting to watch Fei Liu play.”
“Don’t look down on our Fei Liu.” Mei Changsu sat and waved at his little body guard on the grounds. “He is a very good rider, and once he remembers the rules, you may find him a difficult opponent.”
As the two spoke, Fei Liu had already leaped onto one of the red horses, and Yan Yujin stood by his side, showing him how to swing the bat. The youth tried it a few times, but he had not yet mastered the skill, and so as he swung, he sent grass and soil flying, but could not manage to hit the ball. Everyone else had stopped playing, and were crowding around to watch curiously, and Fei Liu, enraged by the attention, suddenly sent the ball flying high into the air, over the tall walls surrounding the manor, and a moment later, there was a loud cry from outside, “Who, who hit us with this ball?”
“It looks like we hit someone, let me go look.” Xiao Jingrui stood and went out the door with Yan Yujin, and no one knew how they handled the situation, but it was a long while before they returned. Meanwhile, Fei Liu continued to play on the field, running after the ball, and it was not long before he had broken his bat into two pieces.
Soon, the other players saw that it was growing late, and one by one took their leave, leaving Fei Liu alone on the grounds, riding back and forth. Yan Yujin went to give him a new bat, but he didn’t want it, and continued chasing the ball happily around the field.
“This is the first time I’ve seen polo played like this,” Yan Yujin was laughing as he came over and punched Xiao Jingrui playfully in the arm. “But Fei Liu’s riding skills are really no worse than yours, and someday, I will train him well, and then you won’t be able to walk around with your nose in the air thinking you’re the best at polo.”
“When have I ever done that?” Xiao Jingrui was embarrassed, but couldn’t help laughing. “You’re just jealous.”
Mei Changsu broke in to ask, “Who did he hit outside the wall? Was it serious?”
“It didn’t hit anyone directly, it was a diplomat group sent over from Yeqin to bring the new year’s greetings, and the ball hit one of their wooden boxes. From what I could see, Yeqin sent over quite a lot of people this year, but the head diplomat looks like a bit of a coward, and doesn’t have the bearing of an emissary at all. Although Yeqin is only one of the vassal states of our Da Liang, they are still the masters of their region, why didn’t they send someone a little more presentable?”
A distant memory stirred in Mei Changsu’s mind at his words, and there was a faraway look in his gaze as he said, “Then, according to the young master Yan, what kind of a person would be worthy of representing a country as its envoy?”
“In my opinion, the kind of person with that kind of presence would be someone like Lin Xiang1,” Yan Yujin said passionately. “He was sent as an envoy to the most fearsome countries, but he never showed any fear himself. His speeches could sway an entire court, his courage could intimidate any tyrant, and he always returned unharmed2, and never brought dishonour to his lord or his country. He was the very embodiment of wisdom and courage.”
“You do not need to envy the ancients,” there was a hint of a smile at the corner of Mei Changsu’s lips. “An ambassador like this has once appeared in our Da Liang as well.”
The two young men leaned forward curiously. “Really, who? What was he like?”
“That year, Da Yu, Northern Yan, and Northern Zhou formed an alliance, intending to conquer Da Liang and divide it between them. There was a great disparity between their military power and ours, we were outnumbered five to one, and soon, their army had breached our borders and invaded into our land. This envoy was twenty years old at the time, and with the imperial rod in his hand and only a hundred men by his side, he crossed into the enemy camps, dressed in his raw silk robes and cap, his hatchet hanging at his waist. The Emperor of Da Yu marveled at his courage and commanded for him to be brought into the royal presence. Before the court, he debated the lords of Da Yu into silence, his tongue sharp as a knife. These kinds of alliances are always precarious to begin with, and at his stirring, it fell apart completely and tore itself to shreds. Our generals seized the chance to launch a counterattack, and so delivered the country from danger. So, an envoy like this is no less impressive than Lin Xiang, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Wow, is there really a person like this in our Da Liang? Why have I never heard of him?” Yan Yujin’s face was full of admiration.
“These events took place more than thirty years ago, and they are seldom mentioned anymore nowadays. You are both young, it is not surprising that you have not heard of this.”
“Then how did you come to know about it?”
“I am quite a few years older than you, I heard them mentioned by my elders.”
“Then is this envoy still alive? If he is, I would love to meet him, and witness such elegance and grace in person.”
Mei Changsu gazed deeply into Yan Yujin’s eyes, his expression somber, as he said slowly but clearly, “Of course he is……Yujin, he is your father.”
The smile on Yan Yujin’s face froze for a moment, and his lips began to tremble slightly. “What……what did you say?”
“Marquis Yan, Marquis Yan,” Mei Changsu said coldly. “Did you think this Marquis’ rank was given to him because he was the son of Imperial Tutor Yan, or because of his identity as the Imperial Uncle?”
“But, but….” Yan Yujin was so shocked that he couldn’t sit still, and had to steady himself by holding tightly to the arms of his chair. “My dad now…..now he is….”
Mei Changsu sighed quietly and lowered his eyes, shaking his head as he recited quietly, “The grass grows wildly on the shores of the ancient capital, I gaze towards the long river, which still winds around the lonely city. I think of the black-robed youth, noble and handsome, his soldiers behind him, his spear splitting the clouds ahead. He looked out over the arrogant army rushing up from the South, like a wave cresting over them, and then he looked to the East, and turned his attention to the task before him3.” His voice trailed off, his gaze full of sorrow.
For those who had dwelt in the eternal spring of youth, the blood of heroes running hot in their veins – who among them had not once laughed at the storms to come, and scoffed at the passing of time?
But nothing lasts forever, time flows on like water, and, like a flash of light streaking before the eyes, the youth of yesteryear has passed away and cannot be recovered.
Still, no matter the depth of Mei Changsu’s sorrow, it could not compare to the shock Yan Yujin was feeling. This was because, in recent years, he had been the one closest to the lethargic old man who now only spent his days with his sticks of perfumed incense. That apathetic face, that whitened head, those lowered eyes that never seemed to care about anything that went on in the world……he had never imagined that they had once experienced such a glorious youth.
Xiao Jingrui put his hand on Yan Yujin’s back and patted him gently, opening his mouth to lighten the atmosphere, but found that he did not know where to begin.
Mei Changsu did not look at the two young men again, but stood, his gaze turned towards the main gate, and said lowly, “He has returned.”
Just as he had said, a green and vermillion palanquin was carried through the doors, and after the bearers laid down the palanquin and drew open its thick curtain, a tall but slightly stooped older gentleman, dressed in a gold-lined robe, stepped down with the support of a male servant, but although his head was white with age and his face lined with wrinkles, he did not look very old, his appearance still consistent with his age in the early fifties.
Mei Changsu looked at him for a moment, and then quickly walked over, and it was Yan Yujin instead who stood there in a daze, unmoving.
“Marquis Yan is returning to his residence so late, you must be working very hard.” Mei Changsu came forward, greeting him directly.
Yan Que was the Imperial Uncle before he was made Marquis, and so although the rank of Marquis was higher, everyone had grown accustomed to calling him the Imperial Uncle, and so most continued to do so, only addressing him as Marquis when speaking to him face to face, as he himself clearly preferred the latter.
“I beg your pardon, you are….”
“I am Su Zhe.”
“Oh….” This name was currently very popular in the city, and even if Yan Que truly did not pay much attention to the affairs of the world around him, he would still have known it, and so he smiled politely. “It is an honour to meet you at last. I have often heard my son praising you as a giant among men, and truly, your graceful manner is remarkable to behold.”
Mei Changsu smiled, and did not waste time in courtesies, but came immediately to the point. “Pray Marquis Yan set aside some time, I have something of vital importance to discuss with you alone.”
“To discuss with me?” Marquis Yan couldn’t help laughing. “Your fame has been spreading through the city, and I am in the dusk of my years, and no longer pay any attention to the affairs of the world, how could you have anything important to discuss with me?”
“Pray Marquis Yan stop wasting time,” Mei Changsu’s expression was like ice, his voice cold as snow. “If there is no place quiet indoors, then we will have to talk here. But it is really too cold outside, may I borrow a little gunpowder from you to warm my hands?”
1this Lin [藺] is not the same Lin [林] as Lin Shu (it is actually the same Lin as Lin Chen)
2he uses , which is also about an envoy
3OH GOD ANOTHER POEM T_____T I didn’t bother translating the whole thing this time, although Mei Changsu has already recited half of it. This poem is called ‘Eight Voices of Ganzhou – The Shouyang Tower of Bagongshan’ (八聲甘州·壽陽樓八公山作) and was written by Ye Mengde (葉夢得) in the Song Dynasty. The original text as well as extensive explanation (in Chinese) can be found . (I have to plug the whole explanation into my Chinese-English dictionary to even begin to understand the poem lol.)
I did manage to understand that the poem is about a vanguard commander, Xie Xuan, who defeated the massive and formidable Fujian army in the Battle of Fei River (he’s the “youth” in the poem). The first half (which MCS quotes) talks about his wisdom and courage as he stands facing this immense army as it bears down on him and his soldiers. The second half, which I do not have the time / energy / Chinese to translate, is something about how a thousand years later, nothing is left of the heroism and labour of the past, as the lonely music of a zither drifts through the empty mountain halls. Sorry, it’s much more beautiful than that! And probably way deeper too lol. But at least, you get an idea of why MCS is reciting it here, and how it relates to Yan Que.
Chapter 64 Translator’s Notes:
MCS STOP WITH THE DAMN POETRY RECITING OR GOD HELP ME I WILL JUST STICK SHAKESPEAREAN QUOTATIONS IN THERE WHENEVER YOU’RE QUOTING RIDICULOUSLY DIFFICULT CHINESE LITERATURE
(……but he wouldn’t be Lin Shu without his scholarly genius……sigh….)
(Also, happy Mid-Autumn Festival, everyone!)