Translator’s note: This will be the last chapter I will publish for a while because I would like to go back to my translations. Wanted to rush this off to complete the MCS/XJY chapters for you! The next few ones will focus on Wei Zheng’s rescue, and I will post them when I’ve got a few of them going!
“You?” Prince Jing’s was shocked to his being, and he didn’t know how to respond. “How would you save him?”
Mei Changsu did not respond initially, but slowly walked to the eastern wall of the chamber. Suspended on that rough stone wall was an ornamental sword. He stretched out his hand to draw the blade, its gleam dazzling the eyes, and his fingers gently flicked its sharp end, its vibration sending out a clear pitch like dragons singing and tigers roaring.
Xiao Jingyan immediately understood and inhaled sharply. “Are you preparing to do it by force?”
“You are right.”
“But that is Xuanjing Bureau Prison! Its security is tighter than Sky Prison* or anywhere else in the capital.”
*or “Heaven’s Prison”, the imperial prison
“I know this is a bad plan, but the question is, is there really a best plan?” Mei Changsu’s expression was cold and serious, like a board made of iron. “His Majesty will not pardon Wei Zheng, which is why any great effort to obtain it from him would cause more harm, and on the contrary fulfill exactly Xia Jiang and Prince Yu’s objective of sowing discord between the both of you. In any case, this matter is something for which a price needs to be paid, no matter the cost. How can there be an absolutely foolproof solution that will result in no injury or harm? Now that the decision has been made to proceed, we would naturally need to fight a quick battle to force a quick decision* as the longer this is dragged out, the deeper the thorn will plunge. Without meeting mortal danger, how can we pull this thorn out from its root?”
*idiom: act promptly
“If that is the case, I cannot allow Mister’s Jiangzuo Alliance to do it alone.” Prince Jing straightened his back and said sternly, “The people of my household are experienced in battle and will not avoid this matter either.”
“What His Highness says is right,” Lie Zhanying added on. “I may not be able to speak for the rest, but I will not stand by with folded arms. It is against my principles. As long as we can rescue Wei Zheng, I am ready to carry out Sir’s orders.”
“Order you to do what? Give Xia JIang material evidence to present to His Majesty, so that he can accuse Prince Jing’s household of participating in breaking a prisoner out of jail?” Mei Changsu replied tersely with no trace of politeness. “Xuanjing Bureau has many martial arts masters. If you or anyone else from Prince Jing’s household makes this attempt, do you have absolute certainty that you would not fall into enemy hands?”
At his direct words, Lie Zhanying cannot help but turn red in the face, unable to respond for a while. Instead, it was Prince Jing who replied calmly, “Actually, as matters stand, I cannot avoid being implicated. Apart from me, who else in the capital would go to this extent of getting into a fight in order to rescue Wei Zheng? Which is why even if Xia Jiang does not eventually manage to capture my people (during the rescue attempt), all he would need to do is to mention that it was me inciting them behind the scenes, and Father Emperor will more or less believe him.”
“Actually,” Mei Changsu said, “Xia Jiang’s move is a checkmate. Even if our operations are extra meticulous and careful, as long as someone wants to rescue Wei Zheng, His Majesty will undoubtedly suspect Your Highness. Besides, taking Xuanjing Bureau by force to rescue a prisoner is a defiant move that would greatly provoke the imperial authority and dignity of the Emperor, and would inevitably arouse His Majesty’s fear of reprisal by former Chiyan subordinates. And Prince Jing, your stand of favoring the Chiyan Army is common knowledge, which is why this fear will first land on your head…… In short, your imperial favor will terminate. I am afraid Your Highness must get ready to once again go through times of being suppressed and inhibited…..”
He said it so gravely, each word and sentence precise and logical, spoken like truth, without exaggerating any point. Prince Jing’s face did not betray his thoughts, but Lie Zhanying was already dripping cold sweat, saying anxiously, “Sir, since you have analysed it so clearly this way, what other method is there to resolve this?”
Mei Changsu lowered his head, his thoughts indiscernible. After pondering for a long while, he heaved a deep sigh and said, “I will do my best.”
Xiao Jingyan had a firm and persistent character, and was often pig-headed and wilful. The more he faced adversity, the more he would not bend in spite of setbacks. Seeing Lie Zhanying’s apprehension and Mei Changsu’s exhaustion and physical weakness, his fighting spirit instead burnt all the brighter and he said resolutely, “Man proposes, Heaven disposes. Until the last moment, I will absolutely not give up.”
Mei Changsu’s lips betrayed a faint smile, but he was immediately beset by an attack of dizziness, forcing him to grit his teeth. Supporting himself on the edge of the table to his left, he sat down.
At this time, Prince Jing was still standing. Lie Zhanying, who did not understand Mei Changsu’s health condition, thought that his action was a breach of etiquette, thought that this Qilin prodigy, because he was deep in thought, had neglected etiquette, and with good intentions coughed slightly to alert him to it*.
Prince Jing immediately frowned at Lie Zhanying and shook his head. He walked over to Mei Changsu, sat opposite him and pouring him a cup of tea with his own hands, pushed it over to the advisor’s hands.
“Sir must be tired. Go back early to rest. Although the matter should not be delayed, in the end it is not something that can be resolved in a matter of one or two days. Besides, tomorrow is the eve of the Lunar New Year. No matter how it is sped up, we can only act after the New Year. As for the imminent cold treatment after the operation is carried out, I have already been accustomed to it since early on. It is nothing I cannot withstand, so Sir does not need to rack your brains and body so urgently for my sake.”
To outsiders, Prince Jing’s words may be construed to be merely polite remarks (lacking genuine care), empty words spoken simply because they were appropriate, but Mei Changsu knew fully well that Jingyan disdained the use of hypocrisy to win others over. His heart was warm as he smiled and said, “Your Highness is correct. Resolving this in the shortest time possible also doesn’t mean that we can do it tomorrow. A great deal of details and particulars must be planned out and carefully thought over, and we still need to wait for one person to come back.”
“Wait for one person?” Prince Jing raised his eyebrows. “Who?”
“Breaching Xuanjing Bureau’s dungeons to rescue someone is inherently impossible, but if this one person returns, this impossibility may perhaps become a strong possibility.”
Lie Zhanying could not make sense of his abstract words, but Prince Jing had a better grasp of the whole situation than him, and after thinking it over briefly, he understood, though he was a little doubtful. After all, she was Xia Jiang’s apprentice. “How sure are you that she would assist you?”
“It is not an absolute certainty.” Mei Changsu closed his eyes. “But she is not helping me. Rather, she is helping her husband’s comrade-in-arms. Xia Jiang’s underhanded murder of Nie Feng in the past has already cost him this relationship as master (shifu). Because of Xia Dong’s temper, she is unlikely to stubbornly cling on to this relationship and still go on being manipulated by him. We only need her to agree to lend a helping hand, then my plan will be halfway on the road to success.”
“You are sure that Xia Dong will return after the New Year?”
“That should not be a problem. Every year, on the 5th day of the lunar month, Xia Dong will go without fail to Gu Shan to hold a memorial ceremony for Nie Feng. I have sent people to take note of her whereabouts. Based to the direction of her movements, she will enter the capital in two to three days.”
Xiao Jingyan hesitated then slowly asked, “Do you, Sir, intend to personally go and persuade Xia Dong?”
“However, I believe it is inappropriate for you to go.”
Mei Changsu turned his head, a little taken aback. This was definitely not the first time Prince Jing had raised an opposing opinion, but before, he had only countered as to how certain matters should or shouldn’t be handled, and never raised an objection to overrule a specific method of action.
Because plotting, scheming and eloquence had always been Mei Changsu’s strengths, Prince Jing had always only complied and heeded his advice.
“I merely feel,” Prince Jing said, half rising from his seat, “You is now my advisor, and although it has not been made public, at least Xia Dong is aware of it. As an advisor, even though you want to meet her in order to stir her emotions for past events, to persuade her to support a righteous cause, I am afraid that it will be difficult for you to fully convince her. After all……she is a member of Xuanjing Bureau, and she has all along been used to first viewing others with suspicion. If you appear personally, she will first be reminded of the faction fights. Perhaps I am afraid that it will not be so easy for her to believe you are merely looking for her in order to rescue Wei Zheng.”
“That is also true,” Mei Changsu laughed faintly at the back of his throat, its tone carrying some trace of self-mockery. “How could I, an advisor who stirs up wind and clouds (to cause stormy and unstable situations), take hold of ties of comradeship to advise her impartially, for naturally, credibility will be somewhat lacking.”
Prince Jing glanced at him, saying sternly, “I judge the matter on its own merits. There is no other meaning. I hope you do not overthink it.”
“Your Highness’s words are very sensible. I have taken it too much to heart.” Mei Changsu’s smile did not change. “That means that Your Highness’s desire is to go personally?”
“That is correct.”
Mei Changsu moved the teacup around in a circle as if he was pondering.
“Thirteen years ago, at the heart of that massacre, she lost her husband, I lost my elder brother and best friend. We can both understand each other’s pain and suffering. Facing me, someone on the inside, familiar with this old affair, compared to facing you, Sir, an outsider, it will be easier for me to evoke emotions of the past. At least Xia Dong is unlikely to suspect my sincerity in rescuing Wei Zheng, and instead, she would most likely be conflicted right from the start.” Even though Prince Jing was still explaining, through his manner of speaking, one can tell that he had already made up his mind. “This matter of Wei Zheng, Sir does not want me to act too much on it personally, I understand you mean well. But the heart of the matter is, to want to rescue someone, to want to exonerate the old case, to want to fight for the throne, all of it comes back to me. Naturally, I should be the one making the most effort, go through the most hardships, not depending on others for everything, for them to serve me, isn’t that so?”
If he had been any other advisor, the most appropriate response at this moment would be to say something like “honored to be able to serve Your Highness” or words to this effect, but Mei Changsu followed his first instincts and intuition in the spur of the moment, feeling comforted and gratified, he said, “When Your Highness was at war, you were also of such temperament, willing to fight bravely in the forefront, unwilling to be shielded by others, even more unwilling to redirect difficult-to-defeat adversaries to other people; even if the odds were great, you would still insist on fighting together with everyone else, cannot……..”
Lie Zhanying who had been standing and keeping watch quietly by the side could not help but interject at this point to say, “That is exactly how it is. His Highness is exactly of this temperament. How does Mister Su know?”
Mei Changsu was startled, and he knew in his heart that he had made a slip of tongue, so he quickly replied “All under heaven know of His Highness’s military might. I have also heard many people talk about His Highness’s heroic deeds in the battlefield.”
Prince Jing also initially felt rather surprised by Mei Changsu’s words, but after giving it some thought, he realized that for this Qilin prodigy, choosing a master to serve was not the same as mustering the troops or appointing an officer to a task, just go with whoever was selected. Naturally in selecting a master to support as the future monarch, he would have investigated in detail, so his awareness of Prince Jing’s own military prowess was not at all surprising. Therefore he did not think too much about it, merely acknowledged it and said “I will prepare to meet Xia Dong personally, even though it is risky. Whether the odds of success are large or small, can you handle it, Sir?”
Mei Changsu himself knew that it would be more effective for Prince Jing to personally act as the mediator, and he believed that even if Xia Dong did not agree she wouldn’t sell Prince Jing out. They just needed to iron out the details for the time of meeting in order ensure comprehensiveness and utmost secrecy, that is all, so having no other objections at the moment, he nodded his head in agreement.
After reaching an agreement on the general direction to take, Mei Changsu looked even more tired and frail. Prince Jing also had to get ready to participate in the next day’s year-end ceremony to offer sacrifices. So both of them spoke no further, after briefly taking leave of each other, parted ways.
Returning to the bedroom, Mei Changsu no longer had any strength and immediately went to bed to rest. Fei Liu, who had been instructed beforehand, pulled the bell. Physician Yan quickly rushed over to examine Mei Changsu thoroughly, and when he reckoned that he was satisfied with Mei Changsu’s condition, ordered him to drink down a final decoction of herbal medicine before sleeping, and then he withdrew to leave.
Except for Fei Liu who also settled indoors to keep watch at night, the other attendants had received orders two days before to move out, so the interior became peaceful and calm soon after Physician Yan left. Fei Liu lay on his own small bed, his upturned body wrapped tightly in a quilt, just about to fall asleep when he happened to raise his head and catch sight of Mei Changsu’s unexpectedly opened eyes staring at the embroidered pattern on the bedcovers, which Fei Liu found odd.
“Sleep!” The youth said in a loud voice.
“Alright,” Mei Changsu quickly responded, obediently closing his eyes.
But Fei Liu fixed his eyes on Mei Changsu’s face, and after watching him for a while, refused to let the matter drop but instead, he got up sullenly, leapt to the bedside, saying once again loudly, “Sleep!”
“Eyes are closed….”
“Eyes closed, not sleeping!”
Mei Changsu forced a smile, sighed and opened his eyes. Grabbing hold of Fei Liu’s hand, he said coaxingly, “Su gege cannot fall asleep at the moment, Fei Liu go to sleep first alright?”
“Fei Liu, not all things have a reason….”
“Why?” The youth persisted in asking this although he may not truly understand even if he got an answer.
Mei Changsu watched him calmly for a while, then slowly sat up and draped a cover over his shoulders. Leaning against the head of the bed, he said softly, “Alright then, we shall have a chat.”
Fei Liu was quite happy at this, his gloomy and cold expression dispersing considerably. He crossed his legs and sat on Mei Changsu’s bed.
“Actually, Su gege was wondering, tonight’s decision…..in the end was it a wrong decision……” Mei Changsu’s gaze was unfocused as he looked at Fei Liu, as if in talking to him he was also talking to himself. “If I was a qualified advisor, I should have done all I could to prevent Jingyan from rescuing Wei Zheng. Because I know perfectly well we should not do it, but to do it, maybe you could call it courage and at the same time extreme foolishness. Wei Zheng is, without a doubt, Xia Jiang’s one trick to kill. As long as we ignore him, he would have no other tricks, no more room for maneouvre. At this time however, any response given to him will be foolish, but we have no choice but to be fools this one time….”
Fei Liu did not understand what he heard, but he looked at Mei Changsu very calmly, his pair of eyes seem to be as pure as crystal that does not contain any impurities, making the chaos in one’s heart and mind to gradually settle.
“Jingyan is with his troops all year round. For his manner of person, ties of comradeship is more important than anything else. These ties cannot be understood by Prince Yu or those of his ilk. Only those who have been to the battlefield together with fellow comrades, fighting bravely shoulder to shoulder, will understand how valuable it is……” Mei Changsu murmured these words vaguely.
“Jingyan himself is like this, and most of his trusted aides are also like this, which is why it is unlikely for anyone else to dissuade him from rescuing Wei Zheng, even if it would stir up the Emperor’s rage. At this time, as his advisor, I should be weighing out the advantages and disadvantages for him, make him go after the advantages and avoid harm, to strive for the best outcome, but yet…..”
Mei Changsu’s voice grew gradually softer. Fei Liu crooked his head and drew closer to him, blinking his eyes.
But Xiao Jingyan’s only advisor was also incompetent. He was also confined by the past, he also had the same weakness as Xiao Jingyan, cared about this sentiment between fellow comrades, which is why he could not prevent this erroneous decision, even to the extent that he himself would also step into this wrong path without looking back.
“Fei Liu, I have let Jingyan down. I once told him that having only me for an advisor is enough, but in fact I am basically not a real advisor.” Mei Changsu caressed away the hair on the youth’s forehead. Even though he knew fully well that Fei Liu did not understand, he still said these words seriously to him, “If I fail this time, then Jingyan’s future will be done for. The path I have pushed him to walk will be robbed away by this road we take. I think it is because I myself am fundamentally incapable of abandoning this. I did not firmly set him straight on the matter, leave him no room to maneouvre. This is where I have fallen short.”
“Will not fail.” Fei Liu said in a resolute and decisive tone. “Can!”
Mei Changsu started, and after a good while he unexpectedly laughed, laughed until he bent over at the waist, panting and coughing until he curled up like a ball. It was quite a while before he lifted his head up again, patting Fei Liu’s shoulder with some energy. “That’s right, what you said is correct. We only need to not fail, then everything will be alright. We absolutely cannot fail, right?”
Fei Liu pondered for a while and replied “Don’t have.”
This time Mei Changsu really could not make the connection and was dumbfounded. “What do you mean “don’t have”?”
“You said it, don’t have.”
Mei Changsu fixed his gaze, thinking carefully for a long while. He leaned back, relaxed the tense muscles on the small of his back and threw out a long breath, “Indeed, in the world perhaps there is fundamentally nothing that is absolutely right. In my own heart, I had never hesitated over whether or not I ought to rescue Wei Zheng. This shows that it is not a wrong thing. Since this is right as far as I am concerned, it should be so for Jingyan as well. We cannot possibly turn completely into people who can cast aside the past, so what we can do today, is to use all our capabilities to the best we can, to try hard not to fail, nothing more…..”
“Don’t fail!” Fei Liu’s eyes gleamed, his tone clear and firm.
Mei Changsu looked at this youth who was like his younger brother and smiled gently. “Thank you, Fei Liu. Su gege is actually not as clever as you, more often than not, think too much, too convolutedly. Speaking with you, my own heart and mind have become at ease and brightened up. You are truly my…..most indispensable arm***……”
Fei Liu carefully took hold of Mei Changsu’s arm between his fingers, then touched his own, his expression puzzled, causing Mei Changsu to laugh out loud before ordering the youth to hurry back to his bed.
“Sleep. Tomorrow will be the new year!”
Like all kids, the Lunar New Year is something Fei Liu looks forward to, a time to be happy, so he immediately forgot his earlier question and quickly slipped into his quilt, reclining completely.
The night was peaceful. The heart, however, whether or not it could be as peaceful, cannot be known. But whatever the case might be, when all was said and done, all the agitation and tension from the day’s ruthlessness and deceit, would each have to be manifested in turn.
Tomorrow will be the new year.
*”对错” (dui cuo) – One of the things I like about the Chinese language is the double meaning their characters contain, in terms of both actual meaning and sound. In this case, “dui” means “correct”, but it also means “to face”, while “cuo” means “wrongs” or “faults”. So even though I translated this title into “Right or Wrong” because of MCS’s internal conflict, I realize too that in desiring to rescue Wei Zheng, to fix that wrong of the past, or even for both XJY to face his perceived “faults” of MCS, the title could also very well be “Facing Wrongs” or “Facing Faults”. Ah, I love all these layers of meaning in the Chinese language, but sometimes they really do drive me crazy in the translations!
** One should not sit down in the presence of a prince, unless told to do so. Especially if the prince is still standing.
***Most indispensable aide. But I’ve used the literal translation of “arm” here else Fei Liu’s response would’t have made sense.