The grand tutor was as surprised as the prince when he heard the full story. “The Prancing Pony is a second-rate faction in Goldtower City. At best, they might be able to claw their way into becoming a leading actor on that stage. But it’s only the level of a city. This friend with such lofty origins came to the crown prince for something so insignificant? Truly, it is difficult to understand the whims of the great. He would have been able to settle the matter easily enough just by himself.”
“He said that Steward Niu was a past acquaintance. Maybe he thinks that it would be inappropriate for him to intervene personally.” The crown prince was unsure.
“Hmm. The geniuses of Veluriyam Capital tend to value their dignity. Perhaps he does not want the bad reputation that comes of interfering in a nation’s internal affairs. Our friend is not only a genius, but a gentleman too. He has ability and skill, but he does not exert his authority over others casually. That is not something everybody can simply do.” The grand tutor spoke of Jiang Chen’s actions with respect and praise.
Looking back at the short letter in the crown prince’s hand, he asked, “Is this the introductory letter he wrote you?”
“Yes. Grand Tutor, please take a look to see if this is a fake?” The prince had a lingering feeling of insubstantiality. Fortune had completely bowled him over with its speed.
The grand tutor glanced over the document. From the text alone, it looked impeccable. His gaze dwelled on the mark of the seal for a moment. In the next instant, the tutor’s face changed color completely.
“What?” The change did not escape the crown prince, and now he was curious and more than a little worried.
The grand tutor’s expression looked uniquely peculiar. He tossed the guards a look. “All of you are dismissed. I’d like a few moments alone with the crown prince.”
There was no reason for the prince to hesitate this time. “Listen to my teacher and leave us for a bit.” He waved a hand. The prince’s personal guardsmen knew the extent of his respect for his teacher. They complied at once. There were no strangers present this time, hence, no risk whatsoever. After all of the guardsmen had left, the crown prince couldn’t hold himself back, “Teacher, what have you discovered? Why did you dismiss the guards to tell me about it?”
The grand tutor’s face shifted through multiple shades and hues. His eyes were glued to the letter in his hand, their pupils showing his unadulterated shock. It was as if the communication had been written by some long-lost family member, so excited was he.
“Your Highness, you… you missed an unbelievably wonderful opportunity.” The tutor recovered himself only after a very long while. He breathed a sigh of utter disappointment, akin to someone who had come out empty-handed from a pirate’s trove.
“Why do you say that, Grand Tutor?” The crown prince was stunned.
“Your youth has worked against you yet again. Is your mind still stuck on the letter’s authenticity?” The grand tutor was depressed at his student’s abject failure.
“Of course! He wrote the letter way too casually, right? Even now, I’m a little worried it’s not the real thing.”
“Foolish, foolish, truly foolish! Do you not see this seal?” The grand tutor hopped about in irritation.
“The seal? It looks like chicken scratch. I didn’t really pay attention to it.” The prince couldn’t sit still anymore. He snatched the letter from his teacher’s hands.
“Take a closer look. What does this seal look like?” The grand tutor’s palm was quivering with anger as he pointed at the object of his shock and awe. “This… this is a three-feathered seal. Such an exquisitely wrought icon cannot be anything short of extraordinary. Where are your eyes!?” The grand tutor was incensed to the point of freneticism.
“Teacher, what’s… what’s so remarkable about this seal, exactly?” The crown prince’s expression was completely innocent. He was like a child who had made an honest mistake.
“Ah, I don’t want to call you a fool any more than I already have. If my guess is correct, this is a seal made by the Progeny Feather Medallion. Do you still not recognize it at all? You… you’re the future king of Bluesky Nation! Don’t you say everyday that you want to go to Veluriyam Capital to meet young lord Zhen?”
It was as if a jolt of electricity suddenly passed through the crown prince’s body. His face blanched and his voice grew shaky. “Y-you… Grand Tutor, you… you’re saying that… this is, young lord Zhen’s, Progeny Feather Medallion seal? Then he… he’s from Sacred Peafowl Mountain?”
“Obviously. What do you mean, ‘he’s from Sacred Peafowl Mountain’? He… he is young lord Zhen, in the flesh!” The grand tutor was wholly dissatisfied with the prince’s sluggish mind at the moment. He rebuked his student further. “The Sacred Peafowl Mountain rules over Veluriyam Capital. The Progenitor Feather Medallion is His Majesty Emperor Peafowl’s token, and as such, the Progeny Feather Medallion is appropriately the young lord’s. These two items represent the highest authority within the city. Even the four monarchs of Sacred Peafowl Mountain and the Peafowl Guard must heed the Progeny Feather Medallion’s orders. Do you think that young lord Zhen would give something so important to a subordinate?”
The crown prince was completely stupefied. At the end of the day, he was the heir of a great nation, not some witless dirt farmer. The grand tutor’s explanation had been enough to unveil the truth of it all. Young lord Zhen!
Suddenly, the crown prince reached out both hands, slapping both of his own cheeks viciously over a dozen times. “You idiot, you bastard, you’re absolutely blind for not recognizing someone so great! How could you not know young lord Zhen when he was standing right in front of you? Your eyes are thoroughly worthless!” The crown prince was filled with incredible regret. How ridiculous he must have seemed, asking about young lord Zhen to the man himself. The crown prince wanted to cry, but had no tears.
The other youth had said that he not only knew young lord Zhen, but he also had a good relationship with him. Maybe they would bump into each other, one of these days. Thinking back, there had been a number of hints in those words. Alas, his brain had been woefully underutilized, and he had utterly failed to decipher their meaning. Regret!!
“Grand Tutor, do… do you think that there’s still time if I look for him now?” The crown prince couldn’t help but ask, hopefully.
“No, I do not. It is quite possible that the young lord has already left Bluesky Nation. A young lord acts in unpredictable ways, and his thoughts are unfathomable. You being able to meet him a single time was him giving you face. Is he going to let you seek him out a second time? Without the matter of the Prancing Pony, the young lord would not have graced you with his presence at all,” the grand tutor sighed.
“The Prancing Pony… Steward Niu must have a pretty good relationship with him, then? Say, why not ask a little about him over there?’
“Definitely not,” the grand tutor’s face quickly changed hues again. “Superiors despise gossipy information hoarders as subordinates. The smartest thing for you to do right now is to carry out his instructions impeccably, then take care of Steward Niu and his inn as well as you can. It is best, in fact, if you can help the Prancing Pony become one of the strongest factions in Goldtower City. Young lord Zhen will take notice of your efforts sooner or later. Actively gathering information is inappropriate.”
After mulling things over, the crown prince had to agree. If he went to ask now, he would find it difficult to avoid leaving an unreliable impression in young lord Zhen’s heart.
“Grand Tutor, I will do everything related to this myself. Dong Sheng must give up his stake, and Steward Niu must be the only person in charge at the Prancing Pony.”
“Yes, naturally. You need only command Goldtower City’s vice city lord to attend to these insignificant details, but you can keep a close personal interest as well to ensure no problems arise. The vice city lord should be made aware that you have a vested interest of your own in the matter. Indeed, it isn’t bad to directly say that the crown prince cares a lot about Steward Niu.”
“You are right, Grand Tutor. I shall do as you say.”
The personal involvement of Bluesky Nation’s crown prince neatly took care of the matter.
When the prince made contact with the vice city lord, the latter was scared into a cold sweat by the former’s words. He spouted profuse apologies for his son’s unworthy behavior and sent his men to retrieve his son at once. The vice city lord’s son was partying and drinking with a group of fairweather friends at some brothel, among them Grand Steward Dong Sheng.
As the vice city lord’s son was enjoying himself, his father’s personal guardsmen knocked on the door to fetch him home. The vice city lord gave his son a severe beating right in front of the crown prince. There was no holding back in any of the vice city lord’s blows, even as his good-for-nothing son shrieked and howled in pain. Knowing that the vice city lord was showing his attitude on the matter, the crown prince intervened. “No more, no more. Discipline in moderation is sufficient. Continuing with the beating would be life-threatening.”
The vice city lord’s cooperation made the crown prince disinclined to hound him further. The beating was actually as painful for the vice city lord as it was for his son. He stopped immediately when the crown prince spoke. “You scoundrel. If the crown prince hadn’t called me off, I would have beat you to death today for sure! Listen to me, and listen well: if you keep on doing these underhanded things with those dishonest friends of yours, then I won’t have a son anymore. Are we clear?”
The vice city lord was fuming with exasperation. Any matter that disturbed the crown prince personally was far from insignificant. He knew, of course, about some of his son’s poor behavior. However, a faction like the Prancing Pony did not warrant his attention. Any associated issues were minor at best.
He certainly hadn’t expected it to involve the very crown prince of Bluesky Nation. Moreover, from the sound and look of things, the crown prince was very close with Steward Niu Wuhua of the Prancing Pony. Without an intimate relationship to defend, why would the crown prince attend to this kind of matter in person? Why would he be here in the vice city lord’s residence for an exclusive interrogation?
Having received a beating from his angry father, the dandy was like a frosted-over eggplant. Still, he was entirely perplexed. What had he actually done to deserve his dad’s ire? Had he unknowingly upset the crown prince somehow? He pondered over the puzzling subject, but he couldn’t make heads or tails of the situation. He had done his fair share of dastardly deeds, but he couldn’t think of anything that would catch the prince’s attention.
“What are you stuck there for, you idiot? Come over and apologize to the crown prince. Ask him to forgive your capital crime!” The vice city lord roared in fury. His son was largely ignorant of most things, but he knew enough about politics to behave himself. The crown prince was too high up; both he and his father were like ants before someone so prominent.
“I’m just an idiot, Your Highness. If there’s anything I’ve done to upset you, I’m really sorry. Please let someone worthless like me go.” The young man groveled before the prince.
The prince’s tone was even. “Never mind. For your father’s sake, I’ll forgive you this time. However, this is something I’ll be paying close attention to in the future.”
Having said his piece, the crown prince waved before heading out, his personal guardsmen streaming out behind him. He had said enough. The vice city lord would have to be stupider than a block of wood to not know the rest. The crown prince trusted the vice city lord’s intuition and own judgment on what to do next.
Seeing the crown prince leave, the vice city lord hastily chased after him, smiling ingratiatingly all the way. He maintained his simpering expression until the crown prince had left eyeshot before storming back inside in a fit of rage. The sight of his son standing up so casually was too much for him to bear. A surge of displeasure rose up like a newly tapped spring, and the vice city lord vented his ill temper thoroughly, kicking his good-for-nothing son back onto the floor.