Chapter 9 (Modified Version)
Outside the Vermillion Bird Gate of the Jinling palace stood a towering building. It was constructed in the style of the Royal Family with decorated beams and sparkling tiles. This ceremonial building was named “Phoenix”. Since the time of the third Emperor, all celebrations such as marriage and coming-of-age within the royal family of Liang were held there while congratulations were received from thousands of citizens. Even though Princess Nihuang was not directly related to the Emperor, her famous deeds are unmatched, and her prestigious name was well-known. She generally received special honour in the Royal Court higher than that of the Emperor’s daughters. This tournament for her husband was naturally held in the Phoenix Building.
One month ago, the Emperor ordered the Department of Construction to erect a platform in the huge square before the Phoenix Building. Surrounding the platform was a circle of colourful damask tents for the nobility to sit beneath. Normal officials and other significant people were to sit scattered outside the tented area. As for regular citizens, they would of course be blocked outside the guarded premise. They will not be able to attend the grand occasion, and can only wait from afar for hints of news while chatting to relieve boredom.
Although the people who can personally see the tournament in its entirety were few in number, the importance of this event was self-evident. It could even be said that the attentive eyes of the whole world were all directed upon the platform outside the Vermillion Bird Gate, waiting for this most thrilling competition to begin.
The victor would be able to obtain the world’s most difficult to conquer, but also most brilliant woman.
The family of the Marquess of Ning were of course guests under the damask tents with their status. Everyone originally planned to go see this huge event together, but Xiao Jingrui was uncertain about bringing Mei Changsu to such a public occasion due to the increasing complications from the past two days. He was immersed in hesitation. The man in question was rather unconcerned about his dilemma. Mei Changsu did not express an interest in attending, and did not pronounce his plan to stay. Instead, as if watching a show, he looked on as Xiao Jingrui paced back and forth while frowning in contemplation, and spent his other attentions happily entertaining Feiliu.
“What’re you guys doing? It’s so late and you guys haven’t even left yet!” Following this complaint was of course the Empress’s nephew, Yan Yujin. He wore a new outfit in pale lilac, and adorned his hair with a silver circlet, appearing very handsome. He stood at the entrance of the Snow Cottage and called boldly, “Hurry up! In an hour, even the Emperor will begin to leave from his quarters. What’re you dallying around for?”
Xiao Jingrui sighed, “I was debating about the attendance today.”
“Of course we’re attending! We won’t get our turn on stage today, but we did sign up, so we should at least go observe our future opponents.”
“I’m not talking about me. I’m talking about Su—”
“Su needs to go all the more. If you’re not even going to bring Su to such a huge event, then what entertainments will you take him to in the capital?”
“You don’t understand…” Xiao Jingrui’s expression remained heavy. He roughly explained the troubles of last night and continued, “All the important people will be present in this sort of occasion. Who knows what will happen if Su attends?”
Yan Yujin tilted his head and thought for a moment, then laughed. “If that’s the case, then all the more reason to go. If you make Su stay in the Snow Cottage, you can’t guarantee that the Crown Prince and Prince Yu won’t come visiting later with some excuses. Then, it’ll be a muddled mess of who came first and who came later, who said what and who gifted what. It’s the perfect opportunity today in front of the crowd for Su to meet everyone he needs to meet. He can use this opportunity to express his disinterest in recruitment. This way, nobody would be able to say anything about being the first to reach him. It’ll be more convenient for the future.”
Mei Changsu stopped arranging Feiliu’s headband. He raised his head and gave Yan Yujin a look of admiration. This young master did not like schemes, yet he could always see straight to the heart of the matter. One can’t deny his natural talent.
“What you said makes sense.” Xiao Jingrui did not like to think about these political trickeries either, and only thought about it for a whole morning for Mei Changsu. His head had been aching for awhile, so these words from Yan Yujin convinced him immediately. His whole body felt a lot more relaxed. “Shall we leave after Su finishes any preparations he requires?”
“No need.” Mei Changsu stood up, supported by Feiliu’s hand. “Feiliu and I are not requesting marriage, so what’s the need for dressing up? Let’s go. Xie Bi should be tired of waiting outside as well.”
“Eh? How did you know that Xie Bi was outside? I didn’t mention that just now did I?” Yan Yujin was very surprised.
“I guessed.” Mei Changsu smiled simply, and was the first to leave the Snow Cottage. Xie Bi was indeed waiting under an old willow tree outside the courtyard. He hurried forward to greet the group when he saw them coming out.
“Su, regarding two nights ago, it was my—”
“Why speak more about the matter?” Mei Changsu’s smile was light and gentle, without any hint of anger. “I did not mind. You don’t need to take it to heart either.”
The two met eyes and smiled, and indeed spoke no more about that matter. On one hand, Xiao Jingrui had deep brotherly love for Xie Bi. On the other, he held great respect for Mei Changsu. When he saw that there were no hard feelings between them, he felt as if the dark clouds have parted. He was extraordinarily happy that the atmosphere has returned to the peace he hoped for, and he was full of smiles.
They rode in a horse carriage to the Vermillion Bird Gate, which was already teeming with people when they arrived. Almost all the high officials and nobility in the capital have mingled here. Everyone was busy exchanging greetings and pleasantries with all their family, friends, and colleagues. The place was bustling like a market. The group shielded Mei Changsu between them, and greeted people nonstop all around them. The torrent of greetings relented slightly only when they reached the tented area.
The damask tents for the Yan and Xie families were not located at the same place. However, the Marquess of Ning and Princess Liyang were both accompanying the Emperor upon the Phoenix Building. So, Yan Yujin came to sit with the group, saying the more the merrier. Feiliu was not appearing and disappearing as usual. Instead, he stuck close to Mei Changsu’s side and stared at every person who got close. His icy aura sent chills down the three noble gentlemen close by.
When it was nearing noon, the bell atop the Phoenix Building rang suddenly, sounding nine long and five short rings to announce the Emperor. There was immediate silence below the building, with only the sound of a ceremonial official directing the crowd to bow to the Emperor.
Gazing up from the circle of damask tents, one would see a field of magnificent fans, pearl crowns, and damask robes beyond the railings of the Phoenix Building. Aside from deriving that the Emperor must be sitting outside the main building based on positioning, it was basically impossible to identify anyone by face. The situation was different for the people sitting atop the building, who were able to see everything clearly from high above.
The ceremonial official had led the first fifty competitors up on the stage. They bowed to the Emperor, and each person’s name was declared before they descended the stage. They were ordered and paired through ballots. Finally, the competition officially began.
Mei Changsu was not skilled in combat due to his health. However, as the Chief of the world’s largest clan, he was very knowledgeable in the various schools of martial arts. He patiently answered all the inquiries from the three young men in the shared tent. Even though the competition upon stage was not yet spectacular, the atmosphere within the tent was very lively.
Just as the first three rounds ended, the first of the many expected visitors arrived.
What astonished everyone was that this particular visitor was someone completely unexpected.