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Mei Changsu smiled and took his arm, saying lowly, “Today is the first time, Meng dage, would you care to accompany me to the imperial Jing residence for a stroll?”

“Good,” Meng Zhi replied without hesitation, then turned and took down the fur-lined cloak from its hanger, draping it over Mei Changsu’s shoulders. “It will be damp in the tunnel, put this on.”

“Are you really going to go with me?” Something flashed across Mei Changsu’s gaze. “Then, when Prince Jing asks why you’re with me, how will you answer?”

Meng Zhi had not thought up to this point, and stared blankly as he said, “I thought he knew….”

“He knows you and I have interacted before, and he also knows you appreciate me, and are partial towards me….” Mei Changsu gazed fixedly at this Commander of the Imperial Guard. “But he does not know the truth of the relationship between you and me. If you emerge with me out of the most secret tunnel in the entire capital, then this will reveal to him that the relationship between us is ten times closer than he had previously thought, and how could he not be stunned? How could he not inquire further until he reached the truth?”

“Then….” Meng Zhi furrowed his brow and thought for awhile. “Let’s say that you’ve saved my life in the past, and I am repaying this debt, or say that you have some information you can use against me, so I have no choice but to….”

Mei Changsu laughed in spite of himself as he shook his head. “Jingyan is not so easy to fool. What kind of a rank is the Commander General? If you were really only repaying a debt, or only under a threat, then at the most I could only use you a little. If you were not in my absolute confidence, if you were not someone I trust as much as I would my own hand or foot, how would I have told you about this secret tunnel, which itself holds the key to my life or death, to my success or failure?”

“Xiao Shu,” Meng Zhi suddenly grabbed his hand, “tell him everything, tell him the truth about our relationship, and tell him the truth about your….”

Mei Changsu’s gaze suddenly grew cold, and the gentle expression in his eyes suddenly frosted over like ice, freezing all emotion beneath its surface, and even his tone of voice grew a little cold.

“Meng dage, what I am most afraid of, is that you will not be able to hold yourself back in this….” Mei Changsu gripped Meng Zhi’s hand tightly, the tips of his fingers digging into his skin. “In the future, you and Jingyan will have more and more chances to interact, but you must remember, above all else, no matter what, you must grit your teeth and never tell him who I am, not even one word!”

“But why?! Why must you bear this weight alone? If Prince Jing knew the truth, he would surely….”

“On the contrary, that would ruin everything.” Mei Changsu cut him off coolly. “Prince Jing’s resolve to strive for the throne is currently quite steady, he has listened to all of my advice regardless of how he feels, and he has cooperated with all of my plans and actions, and has never protested, do you know why?”

“Because….” Meng Zhi stammered, unable to finish his sentence.

“Because his heart is free from distraction, and to him, the throne is currently the most important consideration. Everything I do for him, he has only to consider whether it is beneficial towards this goal, and that is all. As for what consequences all of this will have for Mei Changsu himself, he simply does not need to care.” Mei Changsu’s tone was cold, but as he smiled, a hint of grief drifted across his gaze in spite of himself. “But once he knows that I am Lin Shu, the sequence of priorities will reverse, he will not be able to help himself in wanting to protect me, to leaving a way out for me, and that would tie both of our hands, and we would become a hindrance to one another in the end….”

Meng Zhi knew Prince Jing’s nature and character well, and so knew that he had spoken truly, and he could find no way to refute his words, only feeling a grief well up in his heart, a pain that was difficult to suppress.

“Actually, on the other hand, not telling him will lighten my burden as well.” Mei Changsu drew a deep breath and forced a smile. “Jingyan and I are too close as friends, if I stand before him as Mei Changsu, then no matter what I plot or scheme, I do not feel much of anything, but as soon as I turn back into Lin Shu, then it would be difficult to avoid feeling sad and hurt, and there will be an inexplicable restlessness in my heart. If I gave in to such emotions, never mind the throne, many human lives would also be implicated in such a fall….”

“Don’t say any more….” At this moment, even iron-warrior Meng Zhi’s eyes were rimmed with red. “I promise you, no matter what, I will never reveal even half a word…. And it doesn’t matter if Prince Jing doesn’t know, there’s still me, xiao Shu, from now on, Meng dage will look after you, I will die before I let anyone wrong you again….”

Mei Changsu held back the surge of emotions in his chest and lightly patted him on the shoulder, saying soothingly, “Don’t worry, Jingyan is not one of those heartless types who get rid of people as soon as they stop being useful, and who are willing to share in suffering but not in reward, so I will not come to much grief in the future.”

“That’s true,” Meng Zhi sighed. “Bad at trickery and tactics, bad at adapting to change, and valuing friendship and loyalty too highly – these have always been Prince Jing’s faults. You have your work cut out for you, helping him to the throne.”

Mei Changsu turned his head slightly towards the window, his face as clear as pure snow, an icy smile playing lightly at the corner of his lips as he said coldly, “In our Da Liang, do we still lack for harsh and suspicious emperors who only know how to play in the schemes and feuds of the court? Helping Jingyan to the throne will be a bit difficult, but once we succeed, then, by his unswerving determination and unyielding will, by his keen observations and honest discernment, by his orderly style of work and just conduct, would he not make a good Emperor? As long as internal friction is decreased, a ruler and his ministers can work as one to repair and build up a benevolent government. In these recent years, you’ve seen as well, in the court, the ministers do not think about politics, and the military does not think about war, they are occupied only with guessing at how to please their superiors, and with how to secure and guard their own power and positions. It is fortunate that Da Liang’s power is still strong and solid, and its political system robust and sound, and so it is just about holding up under this empty frame, but if the next dynasty is like this as well, I fear our nation’s power would continue to crumble, and if we do not work to pull ourselves together now, in the future, when tigers and wolves come from every side to tear us apart, how will we defend our country and protect our people?”

His voice was deep and low, and his tone was not passionate, but as Meng Zhi listened, he felt as if the blood in his veins all over his body had suddenly sped up, and it was as if a scalding iron had been placed on his chest. Restoring the dignity of the imperial court by reviving law and discipline, and draining away the tainted pools and replacing them with fresh water – this had always been the long-cherished wish of the Emperor’s eldest son, Prince Qi. Back in those years when Meng Zhi had been in the Chiyan Army, he too had once heard this wise prince describe his vision of an ideal court. But after his death, the crowd of shining talent that had gathered in his manor was scattered to the winds, some were implicated in his crime and died as well, some disappeared into hiding, some changed their aspirations with time, and some had been oppressed all along and could not rise in the ranks, and all that was left in the court was a horde of yes-men, sinking in a heavy, lethargic fog. The Emperor’s pleasure and anger became the standard by which everything was measured, and all anyone thought about was how to acquire power, how to curry favour, and how to choose the correct stance to secure the best future. The Crown Prince and Prince Yu certainly never seemed to tire of this game, and had practically written the art of toying with others’ will into the guiding texts of how to rule a country. If there was anyone left in the entire palace of Da Liang who still bore a little of Prince Qi’s ideals about governing a nation, then, in truth, there only remained Prince Jing, who had grown up by Xiao Jingyu’s side, receiving his teachings from a young age.

“Meng dage,” Mei Changsu smiled faintly, as if he had read his thoughts from the expression in his eyes, and said lightly, “Do you understand now? There are many things I cannot let Jingyan take responsibility for, alongside me. If we must journey into hell, and become demons with hearts full of poison, then let me be the one to do so, Jingyan’s pure and innocent heart must be preserved. Although there are some things he must understand, and some naive ideas he must alter, I will do my best to preserve his principles and his standards, he must not become too tainted in the process of the fight for the throne. If the person I help to the throne in the future is an Emperor of the same temperament as the Crown Prince and Prince Yu, then Jingyu gege and the Chiyan Army will truly have died in vain….”

Meng Zhi’s heart was a turmoil of emotions, and he could only nod heavily, unable to speak for a long time. Although he had promised Mei Changsu many times not to reveal the truth, it was only in this moment that he truly yielded, and carved his sworn word into his heart.

Mei Changsu’s gaze had resumed its peaceful and gentle expression, and he leaned against his desk as he said, “Meng dage, when I asked you to accompany me today to the imperial Jing manor, I was joking. In order not to raise Jingyan’s suspicions, I’m afraid you must come to me from his side.”

Meng Zhi didn’t understand immediately, and blurted out, “Come to you from his side? How?”

Mei Changsu was feeling a bit tired, and he sat down in a wooden chair nearby, gesturing for Meng Zhi to sit as well as he said slowly, “Recently, because of the case of the murdered eunuchs, the Emperor has grown suspicious towards you without any good reason, and your two vice commanders have been transferred away as well, everyone has seen this, and naturally, Prince Jing also knows that you have been wronged. I will find an opportunity to advise Prince Jing, he can take this chance to interact with you more, and take in your men into his manor. As for you, do your best to subtly make him understand your distaste for the Crown Prince and Prince Yu, and your reminiscence of Prince Qi. Your relationship has been good all along, and once it is a little closer, you can pretend to accidentally discover the entrance to the tunnel in his bedroom, and force him to tell you the truth. When that happens, you can take him into your confidence entirely, and express to him that although you yourself would never forsake the Emperor, in the matter of the succession, you can support him. Prince Jing has always known of your loyalty, and understands your inclinations, so he will certainly believe you beyond a doubt. Since the tunnel has already been discovered by you, he cannot hide it even if he wishes to, and then, it should be you accompanying him, and arriving here to give me a fright….”

“Oh you….” Meng Zhi couldn’t help laughing. “Let me see how big that brain of yours is, well in that case, I will logically end up as both of your confidants, it is only that Prince Jing must first receive a good scare….”

“If it were not essential for Prince Jing to know that you are on our side, in order to facilitate events in the future, why would I come up with something like this? Afterwards, we will both be fellow-workers serving the same lord, and there are no conflicts between us, so even if our friendship seems to deepen, Prince Jing would not think it strange, so isn’t this better than any kind of excuse of repaying a debt?”

“You’re right, let’s do it your way. It’s just that, tonight, I cannot accompany you on this first time.”

“You have kept me company as my guest this whole day, I am tired as well, and there is nothing urgent, so I had not planned to go over anyway. It is not early, you should return to your residence, or Sister-in-law will be worried about you.”

Meng Zhi examined his complexion closely, then said frowning, “You do look a bit pale, you must really have worked too hard today. The tunnel is here, and if you do not go today, it will not disappear, it’s more important to rest and take care of your health. I’ll stop bothering you, go in and sleep.”

Mei Changsu was indeed very tired, and he did not need to keep up courtesy around Meng Zhi, and so he only nodded and then went straight into his room, lay down on his bed, and went to sleep. Fei Liu, who was in a little bed in the room, lifted his head, and seeing that it was him, only blinked twice before closing his eyes again, and it was difficult to tell whether he had truly woken or not.

At this adorable display, Meng Zhi felt a smile spread across his face, but he made no sound, and only carefully closed the windows and doors and blew out the candle on the desk before quietly taking his leave.

Translator’s Notes:

1. I think I might have actually cried while typing this translation.

2. Meng Zhi and Lin Shu, brotherhood eternal ❤

3. This is the missing scene from the drama that explains the scene where Meng Zhi declares his loyalty to Prince Jing!!! I mean, we all knew MCS was behind it, but now we get the whole rationale and explanation too. Sorry, I’m more of a MZ than a MCS clearly – I needed that explanation lol. Still, it was a pretty touching scene regardless. Arghhhhh all MZ declaring loyalty scenes make me sob. LOYALTY IS IN THE HEART NOT THE NAME ❤

4. For some reason, it’s much easier for me to see MCS as Lin Shu in the novel, compared to the drama. Hearing him so casually refer to XJY as ‘Jingyan’ here…….my heart……


6. What’s my tag? Ah yes – #everytimeithinkthisstorycan’tbreakmyheartanymore

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