Hai Yan’s Notes:
About Prince Jing (this part was too good to paraphrase):
“I realize that many readers have misunderstood Prince Jing. He is not stupid, and he is not simple/naive, he holds firm to his honesty and standards, not because he doesn’t know or understand some things, but, on the contrary, he is very clear about the darkness in the palace, and he knows what scheming is, he is just not willing to become one of the players, and since he knows this and sees the shame and disgrace in this, he therefore holds fast to his bottom line, and listens and adapts accordingly to xiao Mei’s suggestions. If he persists only because he does not understand, because he is simple/naive, then he would not be worth xiao Mei’s treasuring. As for some people who think this type of person will fall easily to the schemes and plots of enemy countries, I find this strange, because aside from his upright honesty, when has Prince Jing ever seemed more easy to fool compared to others? He is not just a pretty boy (LOL), and hating plots and schemes does not equal lack of intelligence, he always understands immediately when xiao Mei is communicating with him, and always completes well any task he is given, and up until now we have not seen him being fooled by anyone (don’t say he was fooled by xiao Mei, it is in his interest to gain benefit from xiao Mei, and besides, he is very clear that xiao Mei is definitely hiding a secret from him, it is only that he does not wish to investigate at this stage, so if you want to talk about being fooled, it is the other two princes who have been fooled, by the true definition of the word), but why does everyone think he is more stupid than the Crown Prince and Prince Yu? I am really very depressed….”
The rest is paraphrased:
She says that from her point of view, the most important attribute of a successful ruler is not being able to scheme or being clever, because a court should not be filled with dim plots and strategies, but the most important is knowing your people and knowing how best to put each to good use, and valuing the people of the nation, and being fair in bestowing rewards and punishments. And this is the message she is trying very hard to get across in this book.
And then at the end, she adds that she doesn’t want readers to keep discussing who should be cast as her precious xiao Mei (she literally says “xiao Mei is my most precious child”), because there’s bound to be arguments and lead to divisions in the fandom etc. etc. (I can’t tell if this is in response to speculation only or if at this point, Hu Ge was actually announced and some people were unhappy about it (WHO?!) and she’s addressing that issue. More research into dates and timing than I have time for right now is required to clarify this lol.)
It seemed to be a quiet night. There was no wind, no rain, and the clear light of the gentle moon was filtered through a thin layer of clouds, so that the moonlight did not pierce through the window and dazzle the eye. Mei Changsu slept very peacefully, without coughing, and without needing to rise in the middle of the night to sit up for awhile because of the pain in his chest. This kind of warm spring season was suited to rest, and the brazier in the room had been taken away just the day before, so the air was unusually fresh, and even outside the room, there was not the usual summer cacophony of crickets to disturb the quiet. In such perfect calm, it would be a beautiful thing indeed to sleep dreamless through the night until dawn.
Unless he was drifting in and out of consciousness, Mei Changsu had otherwise always been a light sleeper, and with a few gentle shakes, he had awaken, and now he peered through half-lidded eyes, reaching out a hand to touch the forehead of the person before him as he asked, his voice still a little hoarse, “What is it, Fei Liu?”
Although Mei Changsu had always had the uncanny ability to perfectly understand Fei Liu’s meaning from his simple expressions, at this moment, he couldn’t help being a little taken aback, and he had to sit up and clear his mind for a few moments before suddenly realizing what he meant.
He hurriedly dressed and tied back his hair, threw on a sable fur-lined cloak, and accepted the warm cup of tea from Fei Liu, drinking it quickly to warm his throat. Then he picked up a cotton washcloth and wiped his face before walking rapidly to the bookshelf and tapping with his foot at several places on the clean, shining floorboards. The wall opened to reveal a narrow passageway, just wide enough for a single person to pass through. Fei Liu was about to go in first, but Mei Changsu grabbed him and said lowly, “Today, you will not come, wait for Su gege outside, alright?”
The youth looked at him unhappily, but submitted obediently, pressing to one side as Mei Changsu slipped into the entrance, and then, with some hidden maneuvers from inside the tunnel, the entire wall returned to its original appearance. Fei Liu dragged over a chair and sat, his dark pupils fixed intently on the wall, keeping watch gravely.
After Mei Changsu entered the passage, he drew out a glowing pearl from his robes and operated the machinery again to lower himself several feet, arriving at the entrance to a long tunnel. He walked along it a little way, and then opened a stone door to reveal a room, with tables and chairs and some simple decorations. The lamp on the wall had already been lit, and under its yellow glow, Prince Jing stood in plain clothes, turning towards Mei Changsu as he entered slowly, and nodded to him in greeting.
“Mister Su, I have caused you alarm.”
Mei Changsu bowed. “It is my duty to answer Your Highness’ summons, there is no need to speak of alarm. It is only that I got up in a hurry, and my appearance is untidy, pray Your Highness forgive me.”
Prince Jing evidently had something on his mind, but he still managed to smile slightly, and gestured for Mei Changsu to sit.
He had come in the middle of the night, so he must have some difficult matter at hand, but he adhered to the courtesies and was polite as usual, so evidently, it was not anything urgent or desperate, so Mei Changsu obliged and sat down before asking gently, “What has Your Highness come to see me about?”
Prince Jing furrowed his brow and muttered to himself for a while before saying, “Actually……this originally should not be a matter over which Mister Su should trouble himself, in fact, it has no relation to the things we are planning. It is only……I truly have no one with whom to discuss this, and so came to seek Mister’s wisdom.”
“Since I have chosen to serve Your Highness, anything that concerns Your Highness concerns me, there is no need to consider whether it has relation or not. Pray Your Highness explain the matter, and if there is anything I can do, I will certainly do my best.”
Prince Jing seemed to have anticipated his response, and he immediately smiled back at him and said, “Then I will speak plainly. This afternoon, I went into the palace to greet my mother, and Jingning meimei¹ came to find me. As soon as she saw me, she began crying and begging me to save her, saying that……Da Chu² is sending ambassadors to ask for a marriage agreement, they will arrive in the capital next month, and if Father Emperor agrees, then she is the only princess of a suitable age….”
“A marriage agreement with Da Chu?” Mei Changsu looked intent as he pondered. “With Princess³ Nihuang overseeing the Southern border, Liang and Chu have been at a deadlock, and have not fought in recent years. With this marriage pact, Da Chu must be intending to secure peace, but we in Da Liang can also take this opportunity to restore the military and economical deficits we have accumulated in these past two years, so this is not a bad option. But if we are to establish a relationship based on marriage, then naturally it must be reciprocal, if we send a princess over to be married, then they should also send a princess to us, or else it would not be an even agreement. If Da Chu has only come to request a princess for marriage, then His Majesty may not agree, but if they too suggest sending a princess over to us to be married, then there is eight parts likelihood that His Majesty would agree.”
Prince Jing looked helplessly at the person before him, who had so immediately entered into his strategist’s mode, and sighed. “Mister Su, I do not want to know how likely it is that my Father Emperor will agree, I want to ask, if Father Emperor agrees to the marriage agreement, whether there is any way Jingning can avoid being married. You know as well as I, she already has someone in her heart….”
Mei Changsu gazed at a shadow beyond his own fingertips for a long time before slowly lifting his gaze to Prince Jing’s face. “Your Highness, at present, what Princesses are there of a marrying age?”
Prince Jing looked at him blankly, and then gritted his teeth, “There is only Jingning….”
“The daughters of royal princes, unmarried and of a suitable age, who can be raised to the rank of Princess, how many are there?”
“……among Father Emperor’s brothers, some scattered when he succeeded to the throne, so there only remains my three royal uncles, Prince Ji, Prince Qian, and Prince Li, and of their daughters who are grown and unmarried, there are probably three or four……”
“Duchess Mingzhu has consumption, Duchess Mingchen has a crippled left leg, Duchess Mingrui left her home six months ago and shaved her head to become a nun, and Duchess Mingying is said to be mad. Since this marriage pact is to repair relations, who among these do you think His Majesty could raise in rank?”
Prince Jing was not too familiar with the situation of the women of the royal clan, but since Mei Changsu had explained it thus, naturally he would not be wrong, and he felt his spirits sink, but after thinking for a long while, he suddenly remembered another person, and said hurriedly, “I vaguely remember, there is a Duchess Mingjue in Uncle Prince Li’s family, of the same age as Jingning….”
Mei Changsu laughed coldly, “Princess Mingjue is in love with a young man from the family of the previous dynasty’s governor of Nangong, and it was only because his mother passed away just before they were about to be engaged that marriage has been temporarily postponed. Everyone in the capital knows about this, but Your Highness was away with your army at the time, and so did not hear about this at the time.”
Prince Jing listened dazedly, a muscle jumping in his jaw. “So, according to Mister’s meaning, once Father Emperor agrees, Jingning will have no way out?”
Mei Changsu’s expression was indifferent and when he spoke his voice was cold, but there was a hint of pity deep in his gaze. “Jingning is a princess, even if she was not wedded to a foreigner, her marriage will inevitably be arranged for her, has she still not come to terms with this reality?”
“Though the words are true, the emotions are difficult to bear. Guan Zhen has spent some time with me now, and he is indeed an impressive young man. I, too, do not have the heart to see them torn apart in this way.”
“No matter how impressive Guan Zhen is, his birth is too lowly, and he has no brilliant achievements or outstanding deeds that can be praised to the skies, so in the end, the lord’s position cannot fall to him. Princess Jingning was born to the imperial family, and and should know well, what love can be hoped for within these palace walls? If she clings to this reason in her heart, she will not only fail to convince His Majesty, she will sully her pure reputation, and bring calamity onto Guan Zhen’s entire clan. So, in this matter, Your Highness, you cannot help her. Ask my lady Concubine Jing to speak to her, and convince her. Putting aside princesses, how many girls of common families can truly choose their husbands as they wish?”
Prince Jing let out a long sigh. “Everything you have said, I have already known. But seeing Jingning crying like that, I truly pitied her, and thought perhaps Mister might have some strange and wondrous ideas, and so came to discuss the matter.”
Mei Changsu glanced at him, and said suddenly, “Since you mentioned this, Your Highness, have you only thought about Princess Jingning?”
Prince Jing looked at him blankly, not understanding what he meant.
“If Da Chu sends a princess over to be married, she must be married to a prince, and not as a concubine either. Your Highness, think about it, who will be the one chosen to receive her?”
“Ah?!” Prince Jing immediately understood the meaning behind his words, and unconsciously pressed hard against the table. “Mister is saying….”
Mei Changsu looked serious as he answered, “Da Chu is still an enemy nation, and there has never been any news of a Chu princess of particular fame or reputation like Nihuang. His Majesty is suspicious by nature, and since Your Highness has decided to pursue the throne, taking the princess of an enemy nation as your wife would not be a good thing. I will have to find a way to help Your Highness dodge this particular bout of fate.”
Prince Jing looked shaken. “Then, since Mister has a way for me to avoid marriage, for Jingning….”
“Isn’t the situation different? Among the princesses, only Jingning is suited for marriage, but among the princes, Your Highness is not the only choice. The Crown Prince and Prince Yu have wives, and His Majesty would never consider allowing those two to wed princesses of enemy nations anyway, so we can put them aside. As for those who remain, although His Highness the emperor’s third son has a slight handicap, and although His Highness the emperor’s fifth son only cares about studying and ignores politics, they are still genuine princes and sons of the Emperor, and are still unmarried. The princes who look furthest from the throne are the ones most suitable to be wedded in this arrangement. So once His Majesty agrees to the pact, he will certainly choose one of the three of you. Before the engagement is set, the fortunes of your birth dates must first be told4. Princess Jingning’s birth date will be sent to Da Chu for the matching, so there is nothing we can do, but the Da Chu princess’ birth date will be sent here for our ritual masters to perform the matching. I can find a way to arrange for the result of this matching to turn out according to our will. It doesn’t matter who ends up marrying her, we have only to ensure that Your Highness’ birth date does not make a fortuitous match with the Da Chu princess’.”
“What, even the ritual masters obey your command?”
“I cannot say they obey, but……there are some things that can be done.”
Prince Jing turned and fixed his deep gaze onto Mei Changsu. “When Mister Su first entered the capital, you gave the impression that you had been pressed by the Crown Prince and Prince Yu to come, as a result of your qilin prodigy’s reputation. But now, I can see that your preparations have been extensive indeed, as if you have been anticipating this for some time….”
Mei Changsu smiled carelessly, and answered, his voice calm, “With a talent such as mine, I was never content to stay hidden in the jianghu world, quietly letting the world pass by. It is said that the ambition of every man is to serve his country and to make a name for himself, like smoke rising into the sky. If I did not have confidence in the preparation I had made, how would I have dared to turn down the easy roads offered by the Crown Prince and Prince Yu, and instead decide to serve Your Highness as my lord, with all my heart and my will?”
Prince Jing turned over these words in his heart, but could not tell whether they were true or false, and did not want to examine them too closely. Mei Changsu truly desired with all his heart to help him to the throne, Xiao Jingyan had never doubted this point, but as for the true reason why Mei Changsu had chosen him, he still had many questions in his heart. But at this moment, Prince Jing was not inclined to search too deeply for the answer, as at present there were still many difficulties ahead, and many important matters that took priority for his consideration. To him, this mysterious strategist was the sharpest sword in his hand, and it was enough to use him well. As for how this sword had been forged, and why its blade had been unsheathed, at this moment, he simply did not care too much.
The secret chamber was no tea house, and as the conversation was over, there was no reason to continue sitting around chatting. Although the reason for his coming had not been met, Prince Jing understood all along that there had not been much hope in Jingning avoiding this fate, and although he was a bit disappointed, he was not dismayed. The two bade each other farewell, and then returned separately along the secret tunnel to their own rooms.
²’Chu’ i.e. sometimes called the Southern Chu (‘da’ just means ‘great’, as in Da Liang.)
³ remember that I translate Nihuang’s title as ‘princess’ when it’s really not the same as the ‘princess’ of Princess Jingning (more on this in the notes below)
4part of the matchmaking process, to ensure that the bride and groom are suited to each other / fated to be together, by seeing if the dates of their birth match in some mysterious fortune-telling way
(First: thank you for all of your lovely comments and your support. I’m sorry I can’t reply to all of them, but I read every one, and they mean so much. THANK YOU.)
For translation purposes:
Technically, only Jingning’s title in this chapter is ‘princess’ (gongzhu), a rank given to the daughters of the Emperor. Nihuang and the rest of the Ming-cousins are all ‘junzhu’, which some people translate as Duchess. But they can be raised to the status of ‘gongzhu’ for the sake of the marriage pact. For clarity’s sake, I’ll translate junzhu as Duchess, except when it applies to Nihuang.
(So I guess, given that Nihuang isn’t related by blood to the royal family like the other Duchesses, that she was granted this title maybe because of her father? That it was a way of acknowledging the position of her family, as being as good as royalty? I might be totally wrong. And I don’t know if I’m understanding these Chinese titles right.)
Just remember that Nihuang is really a duchess (and of literally the same rank as the Emperor’s nieces described in this chapter), rather than a princess like Jingning, oops. Princess just sounds so much better in English! ‘Duchess’ makes me think of Camilla.
And if you’re wondering why Nihuang isn’t being considered as a candidate, it was explained way back during her marriage tournament. Nihuang isn’t just a princess (duchess), she’s also a brilliant commander with a fearsome reputation beyond Da Liang and, essentially, she’s an asset they can’t afford to lose to an enemy nation. (I love this girl.)
Where are all my Jingmum fans? (Didn’t some of you ask me when she was going to show up ages ago?) HERE SHE COMES ~~~