Chapter 8 (Modified Version)
Xie Bi was shocked by Mei Changsu’s words. His heart dropped. He raised his eyes, and saw that while Mei Changsu was wearing a light smile, but his eyes did not show a hint of laughter. Xie Bi knew his little scheme has been seen through by this extraordinarily intelligent Chief of the East River Alliance. He felt thoroughly embarrassed, and thought desperately for a way to explain himself.
Due to Xiao Jingrui’s special circumstances, he spent the majority of his life travelling outside of the capital, especially after he came of age. He was never involved in politics. Yet even so, he was still a son of a Marquess, and had some basic knowledge of the major powers in the Royal Court. When he heard the words of Mei Changsu and saw Xie Bi’s expression, a bit of contemplation made the situation clear for him. He was furious. Xiao Jingrui marched forward to shield Mei Changsu behind him and told Xie Bi loudly, “Go inform the Empress and Mother, Su is unwell and cannot go greet them.”
“What are you doing, brother?” Xie Bi tried to push him aside hastily. “Stop causing trouble. Do you think the people waiting in the main hall are just average guests? You can’t simply see them if you want to, and refuse if you don’t.”
Xiao Jingrui tightened his jaw. He gripped onto Xie Bi’s arm and summoned his inner energy, rendering his brother unable to move. He stared right into Xie Bi’s eyes and spoke with seriousness, “I believe that Mother and Princess Nihuang are only curious. The one who really wants to meet Su is the Empress, right? So, I will say this again. Please go inform the Empress, Su is unwell and does not wish to lose his bearings in front of Her Majesty, and asks for her forgiveness.”
Xie Bi struggled against Xiao Jingrui’s grasp with great strength, but was unable to free himself. He flushed with embarrassment and annoyance. Although Xie Bi referred to Xiao Jingrui with “brother”, and a close brotherly bond really existed between the two, Xie Bi never truly viewed or respected Xiao Jingrui as a real elder brother. Xiao Jingrui was gentle and modest in nature. He had always been yielding to his siblings, never ordered them around as an elder brother, and always forgave any light bullying he received. He was especially never stern with Xie Bi, the heir. His sudden tough attitude was a surprise to Xie Bi, who was not accustomed to such.
Mei Changsu walked forward and spoke with reluctance, “Nevermind, Jingrui. I will—” He did not finish before Xiao Jingrui retorted without even turning, “No! Absolutely not!”
“I don’t care what you were thinking when you invited Su to Jinling. All I know is that I invited him to rest and recuperate. These struggles have nothing to do with him.” Xiao Jingrui’s eyes were firm and unyielding. “Prince Yu or the Crown Prince, whatever stance you wish to take, whomever you wish to side with, that is your business. Father has let you be, and so will I, to an even greater degree. However, Su is not involved in the affairs of the Royal Court. Even if he controls the world’s greatest clan, even if he possesses appointable talent, you cannot invite him on false premises and scheme to involve him in the conflict like this, with no regard for his thoughts. Even if Su was a stranger, your actions are against moral character. Not to mention, you must possess at least some friendly feelings towards him through our travels together, no?”
Xie Bi had never heard such sharp words from Xiao Jingrui before. Besides, he was in the wrong, and so was naturally less imposing. He mumbled a retort, “It’s just to meet the Empress, he doesn’t have to decide anything…”
“Just to meet the Empress?” Xiao Jingrui chuckled coldly, “If it wasn’t for Su’s vast knowledge and his status as the Chief of the East River Alliance, why would the Empress wish to meet him out of the blue? Should the Empress present the honour of recruitment on behalf of Prince Yu during the meeting, how should Su respond? If the Empress bestows some exceptionally expensive gifts, do you want Su to accept or refuse? Without Su’s approval, you’ve unreasonably placed him in a difficult situation. Are your actions befitting that of a friend?”
Xie Bi’s expression began to falter after being so fiercely reprimanded. His expression was full of embarrassment, and veins were appearing on his forehead. Xiao Jingrui softened upon seeing this. He lowered his tone and continued slowly, “Brother, the family has always relied on your care and great efforts. I haven’t provided you with a lot of help, and for that I feel apologetic. I know that everything you do is for the Xie family. Regardless, we cannot treat a friend like this. If Yujin learns of this, he would yell at you too. I am going to accompany Su to the Snow Cottage now. As for the Empress… I believe that with your clever wit, you’ll be able to resolve the situation.” After that, he turned to grab Mei Changsu, and left without so much as a backwards glance.
Xie Bi stood dumbstruck for a bit. Finally, he sighed, and did not dare to follow.
Once they returned to the Snow Cottage, Mei Changsu sat down on the long chair beneath the tree as usual. Xiao Jingrui poured him a cup of hot tea, and brought a stool close by. He sat quietly for a long time. Finally, he said in a low voice, “Sorry…”
Mei Changsu’s eyes slowly rested upon the face of Xiao Jingrui. This young man of two families had now regained his usual warmth. His face was gentle and his eyes were clear, completely devoid of the fierceness and determination from before. Yet, as he watched him, Mei Changsu felt a shock that was difficult to articulate.
Mei Changsu originally thought Xiao Jingrui to be a simple and kind child. He never imagined this young man to possess such firm and resolute principles on friendship and moral character.
He did not wish to go meet the Empress currently, but he most likely would’ve been able to handle the situation if they had to meet. Still, he couldn’t help but be touched when Xiao Jingrui stepped forward to block his path, protecting him without any reservations.
If everyone in the world can be like Xiao Jingrui, then the world may become a much better place. Unfortunately, too many people cannot do that, including himself…
“Su, please don’t be upset with Xie Bi… He did not actually act in malice. He has always supported Prince Yu, and he truly admires your knowledge.” Xiao Jingrui couldn’t discern Mei Changsu’s expression and felt a bit uneasy. “Your motive for coming to Jinling was to leave behind the disputes of the Alliance, and yet we’re making you face such a mess now…”
Mei Changsu gave a slight smile. He reached out and patted Xiao Jingrui on the knee, speaking quietly, “Being upset would be too much… I know that everyone has their own reasons for the actions they take, and Xie Bi is no different. Unfortunately, everyone tends to think too much about themselves. Many annoyances in the world are born this way. This is the same anywhere in the world. The Yan and Yu are spilling blood over their thrones, how could our Liang empire be any different?”
“Before you came to Jinling, you said that you needed to hide your identity.” Xiao Jingrui hung his head and looked very disheartened. “I clearly promised you, yet I couldn’t fulfill it…”
“How could you be blamed for this? It originated from my mistake. I forgot to tell Feiliu to be careful…”
Xiao Jingrui shook his head and said gravely, “Su, you don’t need to pretend to be blind to the truth to spare my feelings. After today’s events, we should all understand that even if Feiliu did not fight with Commander Meng yesterday, Xie Bi would still reveal your true identity to Prince Yu…”
“All right then, why don’t we flee the capital under the veil of darkness?” joked Mei Changsu, trying to relax the mood.
“Su!!” Xiao Jingrui cried out, mixed between worry and laughter.
“All right now, stop worrying.” Mei Changsu laughed and leaned back on his chair. “What has happened happened, and everything will turn out fine. Both parties are desperately recruiting talented individuals. Since I unfortunately struck their fancy, I would only bring the troubles back to East River if I run back, and then get scolded by the people there for being a harbinger of disaster. It would be better to stay in the capital and watch the drama unfold. Once they’ve inspected me for a few more days, they’ll discover that I am just a useless scholar. Then, they wouldn’t take me in even if I went to seek them out.”
Xiao Jingrui knew that the situation wasn’t as simple as Mei Changsu claimed, but he was still amused into laughter, and his low spirits were wiped away.
In the end, the refusal did not stir up any trouble. The Empress and Princess Nihuang went off peacefully. It seems that Xie Bi really was rather outstanding in his ways. The dinner scene was very peaceful as well. Neither the Marquess of Ning nor Princess Liyang mentioned anything regarding their guest at the Snow Cottage. Xie Bi was even quieter, and returned to his quarters after a few bites. Xiao Jingrui followed soon after to check up on him. Xie Bi did not get angry with his brother, only requesting Xiao Jingrui to apologize to Su in his stead. Then, he used the excuse of feeling unwell and went to sleep early.
The next day, Yan Yujin came over again for more adventures, and found with surprise that nobody seemed very spirited. He immediately suspected that he missed out on some great event. He went straight to questioning Xiao Jingrui, but was not able to pry out any information after struggling for half a day. Thankfully, he finally remembered that the tournament to choose Princess Nihuang’s husband would begin the next day, and that he must rest and retain his energy to strive for his goal of winning the maiden. He finally stopped tormenting his best friend and returned home wearily.