As the Commander General of the Imperial Guard, Meng Zhi often had night duty in the palace, and even on the days he was not on duty, he mostly stayed at the Commander’s Bureau taking care of business, and it was only when he had two or more days off in a row that he would return to his own private manor.
Although its master had an illustrious reputation in the capital, the Meng residence was plain in appearance, with only around ten to twenty servants, and the household was not run very strictly. But Meng Zhi was the first-ranked martial arts expert of Da Liang, and he was not a jianghu man, so there were basically never any visitors who came to the manor looking for trouble, and so the residence had always been peaceful and had never seen any great commotion.
Meng Zhi’s first wife had been chosen for him when he was young by his father and mother, and although she came from a very poor upbringing, she was a person of exceeding virtue and integrity. That year, when Meng Zhi left to join the military, she was the one who stayed behind to take care of both their parents. She had miscarried once and had never conceived a child again, but Meng Zhi did not take a concubine because of this, adopting one of his nephews as his heir instead, and the two loved and respected one another, and had a very good relationship.
This time, when Meng Zhi returned to the manor after receiving his punishment, the entire household was in a panic, and it was only Mistress Meng who remained calm, bringing doctors into the manor and instructing the guards to turn away all other guests at the door, stabilizing the overall situation. Meng Zhi did not mention the reason for the beating, and she did not ask, only concerning herself with his health and waiting on him attentively, and it was only after her husband fell asleep in the evening that she too lay down to sleep, still fully dressed.
As she was falling asleep, there was a tap on the window and she started awake again, but before she could speak, her husband’s hand was on her shoulder.
“Who is it?” Meng Zhi asked in a deep voice.
“Us!” A bright, clear voice answered.
A smile broke out over Meng Zhi’s face, and he said quietly to his wife, “They are my guests, you can open the door.”
Mistress Meng hurriedly threw on a cloak and lit the lamp on the table before opening the door to the room, looking out to see a young scholar in dark robes and a light fur cloak standing outside, a handsome youth with a cold face behind him.
“I am sorry to disturb the mistress,” the scholar apologized gently.
“Since you are my husband’s friends, please put aside the courtesies, quick, come in.” Mistress Meng stood aside to let the two enter, then went over to the brazier to pick up the teapot which had been placed beside it and served tea for her guests. She also filled two dishes with candies and brought them over, then said in a low voice, “My husband, I will go to the next room.”
“You must be tired today too, go to sleep there,” Meng Zhi said hurriedly.
Mistress Meng smiled but did not reply, and then left the room, thoughtfully closing the door after herself.
“To have a wife such as this is Meng dage’s good fortune,” Mei Changsu praised, before he asked concernedly, “Is your injury severe?”
“I practice a hard and stiff style of martial arts, what are a few sticks of bamboo to me? It was only to sooth His Majesty’s anger, and to let him see a bit of blood, that’s all.”
Mei Changsu knew he was loyal and devoted to his monarch, and so did not comment, only asking, “You work so hard day and night, but as soon as a case like this appears, the Emperor turns hostile against you, are you disappointed?”
Meng Zhi waved a hand and said, “The Emperor has always been like this, and as the servant, how could I hope for my lord to change his nature for my sake? Besides, the case did take place in the territory under the control of the Imperial Guard, so the blame should fall on my shoulders, the Emperor has not treated me unjustly.”
A cold smile turned up the corner of Mei Changsu’s lip as he turned towards the lamp, his gaze flickering faintly, as he asked again, “Did Prince Yu enter the palace to plead for you?”
“I was wondering about that too, we’ve never had much interaction in the past, yet he was kind enough to come and plead on my behalf this time, it’s too bad that perhaps he said something wrong, after he left, I saw the Emperor looking even more furious than before.”
“……do you know why the Emperor became even angrier? Was it really because Prince Yu doesn’t know how to speak?”
Meng Zhi was taken aback. “I hadn’t thought about it, could it be……there was something wrong with what Prince Yu did?”
“You are the Commander General who holds a hundred thousand imperial guards in the palm of your hand, to put it bluntly, the life of the Emperor lies within your grasp. Now, as soon as the slightest bit of trouble arises, a prince appears immediately to intercede for you, and not just any prince, but Prince Yu, who just happens to have certain intentions towards the throne, so, with the understanding you have developed for the Emperor over these years, what do you think his first instinct will be?”
At his words, Meng Zhi immediately broke out in a cold sweat, his body trembling. “But……but……I……if the Emperor suspects me of something like that, then he would truly be accusing me unjustly……”
“Unjust?” Mei Changsu couldn’t hold back his bitter smile. “You want to cry ‘unjust’ before this master, is this your first day meeting him?”
Meng Zhi’s hands slowly clenched into fists, his brow furrowed. “The Emperor has commanded me to solve the case within one month, this is not my area of strength and there are no leads to follow, and now Prince Yu has come up with something like this….”
“Prince Yu did not intend to harm you, he only wanted to take the opportunity to win you over to his side,” Mei Changsu smiled. “But this case truly cannot be solved.”
Meng Zhi stared at him, dumbfounded. He knew his own investigation skills were not strong, and feared he would not be able to unravel this mess, but from the beginning, he had taken it for granted that Mei Changsu would investigate the matter for him, and so had never worried, but now, hearing this conclusion, he was too shocked to react.
“When a month has passed, you can go before the Emperor to beg forgiveness, saying that you were powerless and could not capture the culprits, and beg him to relieve you of your position as Commander General as a warning to others.” Mei Changsu smiled as he leaned closer. “So what about it, Commander General, can you bear to give up this position?”
Meng Zhi laughed loudly. “Giving up power and position has never been a difficulty of mine. But once I have returned to being a civilian, what power will I have to help you?”
“As long as you yourself are alright, that will be a help to me.” Mei Changsu picked up a pair of silver scissors lying on the table and trimmed the fraying candlewick as he said slowly, “I am almost certain that Xie Yu was behind the murder of the internal guards……in the whole capital, there is no one else with the motive and capacity.”
“Then isn’t the case……”
“Knowing that it was Xie Yu does not solve the case.” Mei Changsu’s expression was peaceful. “Especially you, you’ve just aroused the Emperor’s suspicions over your relationship with Prince Yu, if you accuse Xie Yu now without proof or evidence, wouldn’t it seem even more as if you were participating in the fight for the crown?”
“Then find evidence!”
“What kind of a crime is the assassination of imperial messengers? What kind of a person is Xie Yu? If he commits a crime like this, would he leave behind the slightest shred of evidence?” A smile as cold as ice drifted across the edge of Mei Changsu’s mouth. “Putting aside the fact that you cannot find evidence, even if you did find something, this case cannot be solved by you.”
Meng Zhi was a bit confused, and burst out, “Why?”
“The current Emperor has ascended the throne for so many years, I will not comment on other aspects, but no matter what, he is not a dispassionate person. This case infringes on the dignity and face of the royal family, so even if he still had complete faith in you, he still would not hand this case only to the Commander General of the Imperial Guard, who has limited experience in criminal investigations. Therefore……the Xuanjing Bureau will certainly receive the imperial edict to investigate this case simultaneously, it is only that they will conduct their own investigation, and will not work with you.”
“That’s true,” Meng Zhi nodded absently. “This has always been a case the Xuanjing Bureau should be involved in.”
“Correct, and so if this was always a case that would likely bring in the Xuanjing Bureau, then when Xie Yu committed this crime, he had to first consider how to handle those conducting the investigation, which is not an amateur like you, but the Xuanjing officers. In other words, even if he could not guarantee that he himself would not be identified as a suspect by the Xuanjing officers, at the very least, he was sure that no evidence would be found. And if there is no evidence, the Xuanjing Bureau would not dare to report to the Emperor that they have solved the crime.” Mei Changsu knocked his fingertips against the table lightly, a faint smile on his face. “Meng dage, if a case that even the Xuanjing Bureau cannot solve is solved by you, the Emperor would not only be astonished, he would be terrified.”
“Ah……” Meng Zhi stared at him blankly for a long moment before regaining his composure. “Xiao Shu, how can you so clearly see so many different aspects that I’ve never even thought about?”
“If you are to serve this kind of lord, you must learn to think thoroughly, or it will be you who comes to grief.” Mei Changsu lowered his head, a faint look of pain passing over his face. “He has already become suspicious towards you, if you suddenly appear so capable and seem to vault easily over every difficulty, he will become more and more certain that he has misjudged you in the past, and that he has not succeeded in completely controlling you, and you will only end up bringing countless misfortunes upon yourself. So, the only option left is to appear weak, to let him see you in a precarious position, helpless in the face of hardship and unable to defend against any of the accusations piling upon your head, so that you seem to be completely dependent on his mercy. This way, he will believe that he is able to hold you in his grasp, and does not need to worry that you will become a danger to him.”
Meng Zhi’s face was taut with fury, but there was a shred of grief in his expression too, as he said through gritted teeth, “What you say makes sense, but how can the relationship between a lord and his servant amount to something like this? So long as I serve with a heart of zeal and loyalty, what can his suspicions, even suspicions greater than these, ever do to harm me?”
“Have you not seen how they end up, those with hearts of zeal and loyalty?” Mei Changsu had not thought that Meng Zhi would say something like this now, and couldn’t help becoming a little angry. “If you do not value your own life, can you at least value sister-in-law¹’s tears? Naive words like these may be spoken, but if you really act them out, then it will not be sacrifice, only stupidity!”
“I……” Meng Zhi lowered his head regretfully. “I know you are saying this for my good, but for some reason, it is still difficult to bear in my heart….”
Mei Changsu looked at him steadily, his face like snow, and felt a sharp pain in his chest followed by a sense of nausea, and he couldn’t help raising his sleeve to his mouth and coughing hard. Meng Zhi rushed over and patted his back, sending in some of his vital energy. He thought about the words he had just spoken, realizing that they had indeed been inappropriate, and a wordless guilt overwhelmed him. He opened his mouth to explain, but was afraid of worsening the situation and causing him even more grief, and he was struggling to decide when Fei Liu suddenly flew into the room and gripped Mei Changsu by the arm, turning a furious glare onto Meng Zhi.
After coughing for a long while, Mei Changsu gradually caught his breath, and first patted Fei Liu’s hand comfortingly, and then gave a faint smile and said quietly, “Forgive me, the smoke of the lamp is strong, and made me choke….”
“Alright, Meng dage, I know this causes you grief, but with things the way they are now, I fear you will have to listen to me anyway….”
“I understand,” Meng Zhi’s heart grew hot as he gripped his hand. “Xiao Shu, I will do whatever you say. I will not investigate anything this month, and when the time is up, I will go to the Emperor and beg for forgiveness.”
“Not quite,” Mei Changsu laughed faintly. “This month, you should investigate whatever you are supposed to investigate, and appear as anxious as you should be when you are unable to uncover any evidence, it is only that your efforts will certainly be futile from the start. As for whether the Emperor will permit your resignation, although he has grown suspicious towards you, there is still foundation for trust. Even with the court full of civil and military officials alike, how can he find anyone more trustworthy than you to immediately fill the position of Commander General of the Imperial Guard? It is only unfortunate that someone will have to suffer for this.”
“Your vice commander.”
“Zhu Shouchun? He has worked for me for seven or eight years….”
“And that is why he will be removed. I think the Emperor’s most likely move will not be to relieve you of your position, but to choose a few people who have no connection with you entirely to be your assistants, and so balance the distribution of power.”
Meng Zhi laughed coldly. “I have a clear conscience, he may send in whoever he likes. But I must find a good place for my brothers who will be relieved of their positions.”
“I fear Xie Yu would not dare take them into the city guard. Take this opportunity to give them to Prince Jing, he will not mistreat your brothers.”
“Ai,” Meng Zhi let out a long sigh. “Although my heart is still a little unhappy, with you to handle matters for me, I am much more at ease. That’s everything taken care of, then.”
“We cannot let down our guard so quickly,” Mei Changsu shook his head. “You will not be idle this month, and Xie Yu will certainly not either. He has raised such a fuss, he will not back down after just one attack. So your Imperial Guard must guard the palace very carefully, there cannot be another incident to deteriorate the situation.”
“I am confident that we will be able to secure the palace like an iron bucket. But Xie Yu has Zhuo Dingfeng, and ordinary soldiers will find it difficult to defend against martial arts experts.”
“Leave this to me. Zhuo Dingfeng can only act in the open, so it is not difficult to handle him. I have my ways to monitor him, his son, and the experts he has befriended. If they are clever and realize that they are being watched, then they will not dare to act in circumstances where they cannot be sure they will be able to escape. If they are a bit slow and do not realize they are under surveillance, then they will fall neatly into my hands, and as soon as they make a move, I will have my evidence, and then I can deliver them to Xia Dong, and see whether she will let Xie Yu off so lightly this time around.” A frosty haughtiness seemed to drift over Mei Changsu. “Xie Yu only had the advantage in striking first on New Year’s Eve, otherwise, if we debate jianghu skill alone, would Jiangzuo Alliance lose to Tianquan Manor?”
“Exactly,” Meng Zhi couldn’t help smiling. “If Zhuo Dingfeng really believes your power does not extend across fourteen provinces of jianghu, then it is truly his loss.”
Mei Changsu sighed a little regretfully. “Whether for fame, for fortune, or for friendship, Zhuo Dingfeng has already been pulled by Xie Yu onto the same boat. In the end, he is still a renowned hero of jianghu, and cannot be underestimated. It is only that the turmoil of the capital is not a battlefield with which he is familiar, and now that their children have been joined in marriage, they cannot be but one family, so if he wishes to escape from this intact in the future, it will not be so easy.”
Meng Zhi answered with a hint of coldness in his voice, “In the end, this was his own choice, so whatever the result, he can only swallow it himself. But as for Xiao Jingrui, this young man……I have always admired his warmth and generosity, it is too bad he will be brought to grief by his fathers in the future.”
On hearing these words, Mei Changsu’s brow knitted in distress, and he turned away to stare at the light of the lamp, murmuring dazedly, “As for Jingrui……it will be more than a pity…….”
¹He means Mistress Meng.
The more MCS dissects him, the more I hate this Emperor.
Also, it gives me Feels seeing how much it hurts MCS to have to (unwillingly) hurt those around him to achieve his goal. And I firmly Do Not Blame MCS for anything that happens to Jingrui, because, well, you can’t shoot the messenger. MCS is doing nothing except revealing the eroded and corrupted values of the court. Honestly, I will hold the Emperor and Xie Yu and Xia Jiang responsible for everyone MCS has to hurt in his quest to restore the names of everyone they straight-up murdered. And I think Hai Yan intended this as well, with all the little glimpses into how much it kills MCS to have to hurt the people he loves now in order to bring justice to the ones he loved then. (There’s a scene later, after the birthday party, that REALLY brings this home. It’s in chaikat’s novel chapter summaries, if you want a preview. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We are still seventeen chapters away from Jingrui’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Birthday Party.)
(Let’s end on a .)