After Xie Yu’s answer, there was a complicated expression on Grand Princess Liyang’s face, part disappointment, part relief. Perhaps she herself was lost as well, unsure of what the correct course of action was.
Xie Yu gently stroked her hair, then turned and walked out of the rock garden, his steps slow and steady as he made his way to Prince Yu. His gaze passed over the Zhuo family, but did not stop. “If Your Highness wishes to take these people away as your guests, please feel free to do so. The night has been long, and Your Highness did not enter by invitation after all, so if I have been amiss in my hospitality, I am sure Your Highness would not blame me.”
He had regained his composure so completely that Prince Yu felt a bit uneasy. Mei Changsu spoke up quietly from beside him. “The guest houses the Zhuo family has been staying in have been burned down as well. Your Highness must act quickly.”
Prince Yu’s eyes widened. He immediately summoned one of his generals, giving him hurried but quiet orders to take his imperial seal and ride through the night to Fenzuo to seal off Tianquan Manour, and to prevent anyone from coming near it. Then he turned and scoffed at Xie Yu, saying only, “I will take my leave” before gesturing for his soldiers to escort the Zhuo family away. Mistress Zhuo’s heart still ached for Xiao Jingrui, and she turned to look at him, as if she were about to say something. Just then, the Grand Princess also came over, looking exhausted as she leaned wearily on her son’s arm and asked him softly to come with her to the Princess’ residence to stay for the next few days. Xiao Jingrui lowered his head in agreement, then knelt down on the ground where he stood, turned to face the Zhuos, and touched his forehead to the ground three times without speaking. Mistress Zhuo wept so hard she almost choked, the tears falling from her face like rain.
Zhuo Dingfeng put a hand on his wife’s shoulder and helped her forward, but the pain in his own chest grew almost unbearable and he finally stopped, turned his head, and said in a voice thick with grief, “Jingrui, come here, I have something to say to you….”
Xiao Jingrui stood frozen for a moment, then walked over slowly. This was his father, who had loved and doted on him for more than twenty years, and yet, at this moment, he could not bring himself to meet his eyes, and so he fixed his gaze on his shoulder.
“Jingrui,” Zhuo Dingfeng let his hand drop heavily onto Xiao Jingrui’s shoulder. “I know you have a high tolerance by nature, but there are some things that cannot be endured, and must be let out. Your mum and I……are not unreasonable people. No matter who should bear responsibility for the events of the past, it is not you, so do not blame your…..”
He had not even finished his sentence when Xiao Jingrui’s pupils constricted, and he flung off the hand Zhuo Dingfeng had placed on his shoulder, turning and pushing him to one side in the same motion. Amidst the startled cries of everyone around them, a man rose up from the ring of Prince Yu’s soldiers surrounding the Zhuo family and thrust the gleaming point of a sword directly at Zhuo Dingfeng’s back. And though Xiao Jingrui had pushed him aside in time, the assassin was fast enough that the point of his sword still caught the edges of Zhuo Dingfeng’s robes. But since Xiao Jingrui had used his momentum to push Zhuo Dingfeng, he did not have enough time to dodge the sword himself, and the blade pierced his abdomen, emerging again dripping with blood.
All of this had happened in the blink of an eye, and none of the martial arts masters standing around had had time to react. If Xiao Jingrui had not avoided Zhuo Dingfeng’s compassionate gaze because of the grief in his heart, and turned his eyes aside for just a moment, he likely would not have been quick enough to save his adopted father from a fatal injury. The assassin had missed his chance, and he knew there would not be another. He reached up and pulled at something around his own neck, and then fell to the ground, dead. Xia Dong, who was standing closest, lunged forward, but was too late to stop him, and could only shake her head.
“Jingrui! Jingrui!” Zhuo Dingfeng held the limp body in his arms tightly, directing his inner energy along the channels in his body as he stemmed the blood flowing out of the open wounds. By this time, the Grand Princess and Mistress Zhuo had come running over in tears. Yan Yujin was patting frantically all over his own body, trying to find the bottle of heart-protection pills he had grabbed from the hall earlier, and in his distress, he couldn’t seem to find it. Mei Changsu had also come rushing over, and now he bent and carefully examined Xiao Jingrui’s wounds. He saw that, though the wounds were serious, they were fortunately not fatal, and since the young man had already taken a heart-protection pill this evening, his life was likely not in danger. He took a breath to still his pounding heart, and then handed a vial of gold wound ointment to Mistress Zhuo for her to start treating Xiao Jingrui’s injuries.
Yan Yujin had finally found the bottle, and he quickly poured out another pill, meaning to give it to his friend, but was stopped by a shake of Mei Changsu’s head. “Keep it for now, this is invaluable, life-saving medicine, and is not meant to be used in this way. One pill for today will be enough.”
Prince Yu, who had frozen in fear at the bloodshed that had occurred only paces from him, finally regained his composure, and he turned to glare fiercely at Xie Yu. But the latter shrugged coldly and answered, “Everyone saw it clearly, that assassin was one of your men, what are you looking at me for?”
Prince Yu flushed furiously, his chest burning in rage, and he shouted at one of his soldiers, “Take that corpse away and find out where he crawled in from! No mistakes!”
Mei Changsu glanced at him, but did not speak. Even the best of plans could not control every variable, and the attempt just now had frightened even him. It was fortunate indeed that nothing worse had resulted. As for how Prince Yu controlled his soldiers, Mei Changsu had no suggestion whatsoever. In fact, Prince Yu was fortunate that Mei Changsu had refrained himself from making things worse.
Xiao Jingrui’s wounds had been tended to for the moment, and the bleeding had finally stopped, but he was still unconscious, his cheeks grey. The Grand Princess had already called for carriages, and was prepared to take him away to the Princess’ residence for further treatment. Yuwen Nian murmured something in a trembling voice about taking Xiao Jingrui back with her to her lodgings for rest and treatment, but no one paid any attention to this strange suggestion. Only Yue Xiuze noticed his young disciple almost in tears, and strode over and pulled her off to one side, saying in a low voice, “This is Jinling, you must be patient.”
“Where is Xuan ge?” Yuwen Nian looked around helplessly, her voice breaking.
“He probably did not come in, and is waiting for us outside. We are after all foreigners here….”
“Shi fu, what should we do?” Yuwen Nian wrung her hands. “The Grand Princess is so powerful, and gege did not seem to want to listen to me…… didn’t our sorcerer divine that April would be an auspicious month, and that if we came at this time, we would be sure to bring gege back with us….”
The Chu believed strongly in the astrology and divination of their sorcerers, and a Chu emperor had once even abdicated in favour of the Crown Prince because of the alignment of the stars, and so Yue Xiuze immediately said to her comfortingly, “The sorcerer has divined it, so what are you worried for? Although he was young, and not high in rank, all of his predictions for His Highness Prince Ling have been correct so far. You must have faith.”
The two were speaking quietly, and no one was paying attention to them except for Mei Changsu, who glanced over periodically. Prince Yu was reorganizing his soldiers, appointing the most trusted to guard the Zhuo family, and arranging for a stretcher to be brought for the wounded. Grand Princess Liyang sent a few of her servants to fetch Xie Bi and Xie Qi, then turned and looked at her husband, who would be staying behind alone, and then swallowed her tears and followed the crowd out of the manor.
Yuwen Xuan was waiting calmly outside the gates beside the Capital Patrol, who still had no idea what was happening, and who had been gazing suspiciously at Yuwen Xuan the entire time. He was not interested in what had occurred in the manor, and when he saw his sister coming out safely, his face broke into a smile and he came forward, saying to her gently, “Nian Nian, what is it?”
“He still hasn’t said a word to me….” Yuwen Nian whispered miserably, falling into his arms.
“Never mind, he has had too great a shock, and so hasn’t had time to listen to you. You fought by his side tonight, and he will remember this sister of his in the end.” Yuwen Xuan patted her shoulder, his gentle voice soothing. “Think about it, we chose such a public setting to reveal everything, and this has burned all of his bridges. This method cannot be compared to simply telling him everything in confidence. His identity and circumstance have changed so much so suddenly, and even if he doesn’t know it yet, it will not be long before he realizes that, even with the Grand Princess’ protection, he cannot stay in this Jinling of Da Liang. When that time comes, we will approach him again, and he will definitely agree to leave with us. After all, who would not want to meet his own birth father?”
Yuwen Nian nodded, her eyes following Xiao Jingrui, who was being lifted onto a carriage. A tear made its way down her cheek. Yan Yujin, who was about to leave with his father, looked over and saw her, and he couldn’t help the stir of pity that arose in his heart. He hesitated for a moment before walking over to say to her, “Miss Yuwen, Jingrui’s injuries are not fatal, you do not need to worry. The Grand Princess is generous by nature, if you go and knock on her door, she will let you in to see Jingrui.”
Yuwen Nian saw his good intentions and hurriedly wiped her face, then curtsied and said in a quiet voice, “Thank you, Master Yan.”
Yan Yujin nodded back at her, then turned to look at Yuwen Xuan, but he did not like this simpering Prince Ling of Da Chu, so he did not speak, and simply turned and left.
Before Xia Dong left, she purposefully found her way to Mei Changsu’s side, leaning over to say quietly in his ear, “The great prodigy is indeed skillful. And some people say you aren’t good at chess, what a joke.”
Mei Changsu smiled. “I am indeed a poor chess player, Officer Xia has only to try me and she will see. But Officer Xia is only interested in the case on her hands, and probably won’t care much about other people’s chess games, isn’t that right?”
“You are correct,” Xia Dong laughed and blew out a breath lightly. “I care only about solving my own case, and have always been blind and deaf to anything unrelated. Tell His Highness Prince Yu not to bother finding me, he will only be wasting his time.”
“I never pass on messages.” Mei Changsu’s ear was tickled by her breath, and he dodged away with a smile. “Besides, His Highness Prince Yu is an intelligent man, when has he ever bothered Officer Xia?”
Xia Dong lifted her head and laughed again, then turned and grabbed Xia Chun as she walked away.
By this time, Prince Yu had finally finished making arrangements for the Zhuo family to be escorted away. He had always been good at showing warmth and hospitality, and Zhuo Dingfeng was a straightforward jianghu man, and so although he had not completely let go of his suspicions, his impression of Prince Yu seemed to be improving. Mei Changsu knew it was time for him to withdraw and let Prince Yu handle the rest, and so he stood far off to the side. Besides, the Zhuos had managed to escape with their lives, at least for now, and he could finally breathe a sigh of relief. Zhuo Dingfeng had conspired with Xie Yu for so long that there were many things he knew, and his oral testimony alone could destroy Xie Yu. As long as there remained just a few pieces of evidence at Tianquan Manor, Xie Yu’s ability to talk his way out of this one would be almost non-existent. And Prince Yu would certainly take care of these matters very thoroughly.
“Shall I arrange for some of my men to see Mister Su back to your manor?” Prince Yu came over, looking at Mei Changsu like he had found treasure. “Mister has been in the water and is wet all over, it would not do to catch a chill. I will send over a doctor to look after you, how about that?”
“I thank Your Highness,” Mei Changsu smiled. “The matters which are to follow are of utmost importance, Your Highness will likely spend the rest of the night dealing with them, so you must not worry yourself on my account. Commander Meng has been forced into this mess against his will, and from his expression, it seems he has realized he has been used tonight, and is upset. He is still greatly favoured by His Majesty, and holds a high position in the court, so we cannot afford to offend him. Let Your Highness return to your residence first. I must go over and think of a way to explain things to him.”
Prince Yu was taken aback, and he turned to see that Meng Zhi did indeed look faintly displeased, and so he said hurriedly, “I must trouble Mister in this matter then. Commander Meng is upright and loyal, so you must be careful in your explanations. We cannot make him our enemy.”
Mei Changsu nodded. Prince Yu turned and went over to Meng Zhi, exchanging a few polite words with him before leading the Zhuo family away to a carriage waiting nearby. Mei Changsu came up slowly in his wake, smiling as he said, “We have troubled Commander Meng tonight.”
Meng Zhi looked around and saw that almost everyone had left, and finally let his face relax as he answered, “You’re still strolling around, aren’t you cold?”
“I am a little cold now……it is already past curfew. It is dangerous for a commoner like myself to traverse the streets alone at night, would the Commander General be willing to escort me home?”
Meng Zhi didn’t know whether he was serious or joking until a carriage pulled up in front of them. He closed his gaping mouth and helped Mei Changsu inside.
“Where’s Fei Liu?”
“He’ll be somewhere nearby.” When the curtains were drawn, Mei Changsu relaxed a little. He took off his soaking outer robes and drew a blanket over himself. Meng Zhi braced a hand on his chest, pouring his inner energy into him to warm his blood and increase his circulation.
“To tell the truth, tonight really was….” When he saw Mei Changsu’s colour return to normal, Meng Zhi finally relaxed and retrieved his hand. He thought about everything that had happened and couldn’t help sighing. “Even though you told me about it beforehand, it was still shocking to witness.”
Mei Changsu sighed too. “And you were only an observer. To those who were involved, it was no better than torture….”
“That’s right, what happened to the Grand Princess all those years ago must have been a tightly guarded secret. Didn’t Prince Yu ask you how you managed to find out about it?”
“I didn’t.” Mei Changsu tightened the blanket around himself. “It was Prince Yu who discovered it for himself, and then told me about it.”
“Ah?” Meng Zhi couldn’t believe his ears. “What – what did you say?!”
Mei Changsu cocked his head from inside the blanket. “The entire affair started a year ago. First, we found a leather salesman who remarked while inside Crimson Sleeve House that some old prince from Da Chu looked a lot like the Young Master Xiao. Then, we arranged for an old palace servant to accidentally remind the Empress of the Grand Princess Liyang’s situation from all those years ago…. When the two pieces of information came together, they were enough to allow certain people to connect the dots. Prince Yu is a suspicious man by nature, and Qin Banruo cannot help but investigate any secret she comes across, so we didn’t even have to push much before they started to investigate matters for themselves. There is one thing you don’t know. Last month, Gong Yu tried to assassinate Xie Yu….”
“Of course, she was not successful, and she suffered a slight injury while trying to escape and couldn’t make it to Miaoyin House, but she did happen to flee into Crimson Sleeve House, where she was saved by Qin Banruo….” Mei Changsu’s gaze shifted coldly. “And that’s how Prince Yu came to know the secret of Xie Yu killing an infant all those years ago.”
“I understand!” Meng Zhi slapped his thigh. “Once Prince Yu discovered all of this, he would certainly come to you to discuss how best to use this information, and so you arranged for everything to be revealed at the birthday banquet. It is too perfect! But, what about Yuwen Xuan and the rest….”
“Prince Yu received the imperial command to host Yuwen Xuan when he arrived in Jinling, so naturally, he had the chance to see Yuwen Nian. And once he saw the face of Miss Yuwen, what more was there to understand? The lady’s desire is plain to see, and with Prince Yu’s quick tongue, it would not be difficult at all to convince them to pay a visit to the Marquis of Ning’s manor tonight.”
“That’s right, that’s right. It was a little harsh, but the opportunity was too good to pass up.” Meng Zhi sighed deeply. “But the timing of their arrival was truly fortuitous.”
“When Prince Yu first came to me for advice, I only arranged for Gong Yu to perform at the birthday banquet, so that she could find a chance to accuse Xie Yu before the Zhuo family. But that would only be a baseless accusation with no objective evidence, and the results would have been difficult to predict. So, when the Da Chu ambassadors for the marriage alliance arrived at the capital, and Prince Yu discovered Yuwen Nian, he couldn’t believe his luck, and he came running over to me saying, ‘Even the Heavens are on my side!'” Mei Changsu laughed coldly. “We will let him believe that his luck is really this good, and that the Heavens are helping him. After all, without Prince Yu, it would be much more difficult for me to bring down Xie Yu.”
“It was fortunate that everything was within your anticipation, and the unexpected little accidents did not affect the overall outcome.” Meng Zhi stroked his beard, sighing. “The poor Zhuo family, deceived for so many years. And there is Jingrui, who knows what will become of this young man in the future…. He has probably guessed your role in all of this by now, right? You were friends, will he blame you for being so ruthless?”
“Let him blame me if he must.” Mei Changsu’s tone was light, but his eyes were dim as he murmured, “If I were any less ruthless, how could I sever so cleanly the connection between him and Xie Yu? This child……had to face this in the end….”
The party may be over, but the feels are not….
(Also, this is probably not what the text is implying, but I suddenly have a mental image of Lin Chen as that Chu sorcerer, wearing deep hoods with wide sleeves and waving a lot of smoke around as he pretends to study the stars……)