Chapter 123 : The Beginning

Some random thoughts:
Thanks to WordPress analytics, I get to see where the visitors of this site hail from. It’s really very exciting to see how far and wide the fans of NIF are spread compared to this little red dot I call home. Welcome, welcome! Am so happy you have dropped by!
Specifically though, it got me wondering, how many readers here are of Chinese descent like myself, looking for English translations of NIF/LYB simply because we are not familiar enough with our “mother tongue” to actually read the original Chinese version. One of my regrets after discovering NIF/LYB was not taking Chinese lessons when I was offered them in school in Malaysia. Today, I am really grateful for the likes of MDBG and Pleco as they allow me to appreciate Chinese in its original form, though maybe not exactly or accurately, but it certainly beats pen, paper and a 1000-paged Chinese-English dictionary!

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For the Great Liang Imperial Court, the year that had just passed was one that was filled with many shocking changes emerging one after the other, beginning with the case of the bloody murder of the eunuch, and ending with the year end sacrificial ceremony.

The illustrious and triumphant Marquis Ning’s household had caved in. The Crown Prince had his position as heir to the throne abolished, after having held it for 10 years, although this abolishment had been a relatively peaceful one and was not followed by a bloody purge by the sword. However, when all was said and done, one could conclude that the peace and stability of the imperial government had already been broken. Practically all of the officials branded as being part of the Crown Prince’s faction believed that Prince Yu had not begun operations to purge them because of Prince Jing’s sudden meteoric rise, but once his hands were free, anyone who had not managed to escape would meet a bad end.

So for these people, Prince Jing Xiao Jingyan was their lifeline. Even if he had made it clear that he would not form his own faction, allowing this prince to take the throne would be better compared to Prince Yu, since there were no old enmities.

Due to his conscientiousness and the care he paid to every detail at the sacrificial ceremony, Prince Jing gave everyone the impression that he was of a firm and stable character. Those weary of the many years of power struggle, who were disappointed in the current state of affairs at court, the courtiers who sincerely desired to serve the country and the people, had also more or less placed their hopes on him.

These two types of courtiers added together – those who had supported the Crown Prince, and those who were sincere – meant that the strength of support for Prince Jing was already in fact not weaker than Prince Yu. More importantly, this strong support was not apparent but hidden, so much so that Prince Yu could not counter it the same way he had done with the Crown Prince previously, that is, by launching an offensive against this or that member of Prince Jing’s faction before the Emperor. Being thus powerless to make a move, Prince Yu was therefore forced to pin all his hopes on Xia Jiang. Just as it was impossible for the officials in the Crown Prince’s faction to switch loyalties and support him, Xia Jiang, the mastermind behind the Chiyan case, could never stand by to see Prince Jing make his bid for the throne without doing anything.

On that matter, Prince Yu sought solace in the fact that Xia Jiang did not let him down. The mighty and unflappable Director of Xuanjing Bureau seemed to have ruthlessly taken a firm grip of Prince Jing’s Achilles heel with his first move.

“But is Xia Jiang absolutely certain that Prince Jing would definitely act?” In Prince Yu’s Mansion, Qin Banruo couldn’t help asking this question. “Wei Zheng is a traitor after all. Even if Prince Jing is obstinate and impetuous, wouldn’t Mei Changsu also find a way to hold him back? The advantages and disadvantages of this matter are really too imbalanced!”

“To be honest, I am also unable to understand it,” Prince Yu shrugged. “But Xia Jiang seems to be very confident. He said that for some people, no matter how much one tries, there are many things that are in one’s core nature that cannot be erased.”

“But Mei Changsu….”

“I had also mentioned Mei Changsu to Xia Jiang, but he feels that even if Mei Changsu has an ability as large as the heavens, he is still only an advisor. Prince Jing is not one to easily allow an advisor to influence the decision. The Chiyan case is also the deepest thorn in Prince Jing’s heart, so this time Mei Changsu will not be able to hold him back.” Prince Yu smiled maliciously. “If that Qilin prodigy opposes too intensely, perhaps the both of them will fall out because of this. Did you hear that on the first day of the lunar month, Mei Changsu went to Prince Jing’s mansion to pay a new year call and left before the time it takes to burn one joss stick^? It is evident that this is a case of “when views are irreconcilable, it is a waste of breath to continue discussions.””*
^anything between 5-15 mins, definitely no more than 30.
*this is a well-known phrase I decided to leave whole rather than translate into an appropriate phrase in English

Hopefully this is so,” Qin Banruo smiled with some effort, and did not put forward more doubts. In those years, when the Chiyan case first erupted, though she was still young, she had already started becoming aware of such matters. She was very clear beyond a shred of doubt about Xia Jiang’s schemes & methods, but deep within her heart, she still believed that the reason it was possible to defeat the household of Chiyan’s Commander-in-Chief and Prince Qi all those years ago, was because the true mastermind behind the whole operations was her shifu, that unsurpassed talent, that intriguing and unparalleled princess of a vanquished nation. She was not as confident of Xia Jiang as Prince Yu was, not after he had lost to the first rate, unrivalled think tank, Princess Xuanji.

But the Qin Banruo of today dared not voice her misgivings as she would have before. During Jiangzuo Alliance’s counterattack, they had eliminated almost all the talented girls in her network, so nowadays she can only be regarded as an ordinary advisor, just one of the subordinates serving Prince Yu’s household. Besides being a beautiful woman whose looks captivated Prince Yu more than the others, she didn’t possess any other advantage, so as a consequence she needed to be more careful with her behavior. Moreover, Prince Yu had lately been in an unfavorable mood and was easily agitated, thus he was not as lenient and indulgent towards her as before.

“I went to Xuanjing Bureau yesterday to take a look at Wei Zheng. He seems to be the sort who possesses a very strong moral character. In order to prevent him from taking his own life, his four limbs had been secured. Even his mouth was stuffed with a round sack so I was unable to speak with him.” Prince Yu narrowed his eyes, his expression a little baffled. “He is in such a desperate situation, yet he could still glare at me without the slightest hint of fear nor acknowledgment of defeat. This traitor is truly too arrogant and completely without reason. I simply cannot understand it.”

Qin Banruo was also unable to understand it but as a woman, she could not possibly bear any ill-will towards a man with such a determined strength of character, so she merely echoed “Yes” softly in agreement then got up to pour Prince Yu a cup of tea.

“But after Xia Jiang became aware that I had been to Xuanjing Bureau, he was a little angry,” Prince Yu took the freshly poured cup of hot tea and continued, “He said that he was not too keen on his three apprentices finding out that he and I are in touch. He is right on this point – I had blundered.”

“That Your Highness was able to so boldly acknowledge your mistake and modify your words so adeptly, it is indeed the true mark of a prince.” Qin Banruo smiled sweetly and charmingly, saying, “Xuanjing Bureau’s one inviolable rule throughout each successive dynasty is to not involve themselves in faction fights. Thus, each Xuanjing envoy acts independently. Although Xia Jiang is the chief, he cannot brazenly do whatever he likes, so if Your Highness should have any need to deliver information to Xia Jiang in future, it would still be better to go through Banruo’s Fourth Sister.”

Prince Yu looked at her, his expression turning cold. “With regard to that Fourth Sister, what is that all about? Is she unwilling to serve me? Every time I make her do something, she declines with all sorts of excuses. If not for the fact that she and Xia Jiang are old acquaintances and I clearly need to let her be the go-between, I wouldn’t have condoned her impudence long ago.”

Met with his reproach, the pretty dimpled smile that was pretty as a flower froze on Qin Banruo’s face. When she had first gone to beg Fourth Sister’s help to make a breakthrough with Tong Lu, the latter had stated explicitly that this would be the last time she would get involved in such matters. As expected, Tong Lu was unable to escape the ties of love that that brilliant Xuanji follower had wound around him and he was ensnared. Qin Banruo had pretended to threaten Fourth Sister’s life in order to force Tong Lu to reveal Miaoyin House’s secrets, but unfortunately they were a step too late, and did not achieve any significant results. Even though that was a disappointment, it was during this time that she unexpectedly discovered that Fourth Sister also harboured true feelings for Tong Lu. In a sudden brain wave, she used this as a bargaining chip to coerce her fellow Xuanji follower to get in touch with Xia Jiang, and only after she had achieved what Qin Banruo required would she be allowed to escape to faraway places with Tong Lu. But promises extracted using such underhanded tactics were unreliable and Qin Banruo was unable to exert much control over her Fourth Sister to achieve the outcome she desired, which was why when she was confronted with Prince Yu’s displeasure, she could only remain silent.

“Isn’t your Fourth Sister very close to that village boy who was formerly under Mei Changsu? The next time she delays my affairs, cut off one of her lover’s fingers and let her see. That boy is in our hands, what else can she do?”

Qin Banruo understood that even though her Fourth Sister appeared gentle on the surface, her temper could be especially fierce when she was pushed into a corner, so she did not dare to agree but could only attempt to soothe him with a soft voice, “I understand that Fourth Sister has a good deal of faults, but Xia Jiang is oversuspicious and does not trust anyone else. No matter how unappealing my Fourth Sister is, she is after all a former Xuanji follower. Even if she leaves in the future and goes away, she would definitely not betray us. Please be magnanimous and be a little forgiving towards her, Your Highness.”

“What else is there for me to say? You and Xia Jiang both trust her.” Prince Yu, who knew very well how to control others, slowly relaxed his tone, “When you are free, advise her, let her know the current state of affairs.”

“Yes.” Qin Banruo lowered her head meekly in response. Seeing her black hair covering her cheeks like clouds, her graceful eyelashes sweeping downwards delicately, Prince Yu could not help but to be aroused. He leaned closer, smelled the faint whiff of her fragrance, and stretching out his hand to encircle her waist, he pulled her to him.

Qin Banruo did not struggle at all. This did not mean that she actually intended to give in to Prince Yu today, but rather, before she could object, a warm voice sounded from the outside.

“Your Highness, can I come in?”

Prince Yu frowned and let go of Qin Banruo, then straightened his jacket slightly and replied, “Come in.”

The brocade enclosed carved wooden door slowly pushed open. Princess Consort Yu walked in gracefully, and catching sight of Qin Banruo, immediately displayed her usual gentle smile as she said, “Is Miss Qin also here?”

“I greet you Princess Consort,” Qin Banruo hurriedly stepped forward to make her salutations, but a hand raised her up just as she was going down on her knees.

“You and I are sisters, so there is no need for you to behave like an outsider,” Princess Consort Yu smiled politely as she said this, then turned to Prince Yu, “I didn’t know that Your Highness was discussing matters with Miss Qin in the study and came without permission. Please do not take offense, Your Highness.”

“What are you saying?” Prince Yu said reproachfully. “You are my wife and can come into my study any time you want to without a need to ask for permission beforehand. What’s more, Miss Qin and I were not discussing any important matters.”

Qin Banruo immediately said tactfully, “Yes, we have more or less finished our discussion. Banruo will ask for leave to withdraw first. Please excuse me Princess Consort.”

Princess Consort Yu beamed with happiness and politely walked Qin Banruo out before returning to sit at Prince Yu’s side.

“How is the situation in the imperial palace?” Prince Yu asked.

“I heard the Empress say that Concubine Jing is still very much being doted on by the Emperor. Among all the concubines, she received the most gifts at the annual banquet. But Prince Jing  did not enter the palace again after paying his new year respects on the first day (of the lunar new year), not even once these past few days.”

“Could it be……that he is still trying hard to plan something…..” Prince Yu said, thinking aloud, “Is it so urgent that it cannot even wait out the New Year celebrations?”

“There is one more important matter,” Princess Consort Yu drew close to her husband and whispered into his ear, “The Empress received a secret report saying that Concubine Jing had set up a memorial tablet for the late Concubine Chen in the small room by the family worship hall and often offers sacrifice to it*.”
*Chinese practice of ancestral veneration by burning joss sticks or making offerings as a sign of respect to the deceased

“What?” Prince Yu leapt up all of a sudden, at first stumped for words. After he got over his shock, he began to rub both his hands together excitedly. “This is a big leverage! Concubine Jing is really bringing about her own destruction! She is currently Prince Jing’s key pillar of support. Once she falls, Prince Jing will suffer great damage and no longer be a cause for worry! How did the Empress handle it?”

“The Empress knows that this is no trifling matter and did not dare act hastily for fear of “beating the grass to alert the snake”. She is waiting a few days to look for an opportune moment, in order to ensure that she hits the mark with one strike.”

“Good! Good!” Prince Yu walked up and down the room a few times in his delight. “The Empress’s method is very sound. I think even if Concubine Jing does not die for this, she will at the very least lose some skin. This woman is really too foolish, just like her son!”

Seeing her husband so happy swept away the clouds of melancholy that had been hanging over her these past few days, and Princess Consort Yu smiled along with him, saying as she stood up, “I think there will be good news by today. Please be at peace these few days Your Highness. We are still in the midst of the Lunar New Year celebrations and still need to receive many guests. We also need to go around to pay our royal uncles and elders a visit. It has long since stopped snowing outside. Shall I arrange a carriage for Your Highness?”

“You are really my good wife,” Prince Yu pulled her into an embrace, intimately caressing the side of her smooth cheek and said teasingly, “When you have accomplished this, I guarantee that there will be no imperial concubine whom I will favor above you.”

Hidden away from Prince Yu’s gaze, the smile Princess Consort Yu usually displayed suddenly disappeared and her facial expression turned sorrowful. Stretching out her hands to tightly embrace her husband, she murmured, “The words Your Highness said today, you must definitely remember in future….”

“Definitely.” When had this suddenly good-humored Prince Yu ever taken care to observe and understand a woman’s sensitive mind? As soon as he released Princess Consort Yu from his embrace, he hurried out, preparing to make his new year visitations while telling himself that he was still high-spirited and full of vigor, undeterred by the rise of Prince Jing*.
*This is probably a less than accurate translation but modified for readability. Literally translated: “his vigor was not suppressed by the rise of Prince Jing’s sparrow”. I took the sparrow to mean “small and insignificant”.

The snow that had been falling since the 3rd day of the Lunar New Year had indeed stopped. As Prince Yu’s custom-built yellow-canopied four-wheel box carriage moved along the capital city’s broad streets, the luxurious saddles adorning the bodies of fine horses dazzled in the frail golden light of the sun, absolutely eye-catching in its conspicuousness. It was too bad that there were too few people on the streets in either direction to pay courtesy to this royal procession, so few that Prince Yu felt a little surprised.

But he very quickly understood the reason behind this.

The Capital Patrol was normally in charge of guarding the city gates, and would get involved in maintaining the peace only under emergency situations. Today, however, they filled the streets. Not only had they set up checkpoints to guard all the capital’s vital routes, they also had armed troops patrolling all areas – outside the households of nobles, high officials and other such important people, as well as government offices. It was a large display of force, as if facing a formidable foe.

Prince Yu was suspicious, and just as he was about to send men to inquire on the situation, the subordinate he had appointed to keep tab on everything that was happening in the capital caught up with him and came over to report everything to him in careful detail.

It turned out that a few bandits roaming outside had taken advantage of the new year celebrations to sneak into the capital to pull off a grand heist. The night before, they had broken into the homes of several high-ranking officials and nobles in succession, stealing jewelry and treasure. Even the fire phoenix beads in Bao Guang Pavillion, a tribute from Ye Guo* had been stolen. The Emperor had flown into a rage after receiving the news this morning. Holding the Capital Patrol guard in charge of the evening curfew responsible for neglecting his duty, he had immediately commanded Prince Jing to take him to task. Prince Jing had calmly acknowledged the mistake, assuring the Emperor that he would do all he could to investigate closely,  capture the bandits and recover the lost treasure. This was why the Capital Patrol guards came out in full force today and completely cordoned off the city on this scale. It was said that the Emperor was very pleased with the way Prince Jing carried this out, “with the power of a thunderbolt and the speed of lightning”.
*a small country along the Silk Road

Although Prince Yu’s carriage was not on the Capital Patrol’s inspection list, observing the Capital Patrol’s operations all along his journey made him very uncomfortable. But he was very astute and sharp, and after going past a few royal mansions, he realized that the Capital Patrol had actually deployed the bulk of their force in certain districts. The districts surrounding Xuanjing Bureau.

Upon this realization, Prince Yu felt a burning sensation rise in his stomach, some excitement yet also mixed in with a bit of anxiousness.

Xia Jiang’s prediction was on the mark. As expected, Prince Jing was preparing to act. Under the pretext of arresting the perpetrators of the grand heist, using the imperial order as a cover to mobilize the troops without restraint in a reasonable and compliant manner – it was indeed a clever trick. It was just too bad….

“Even if you were Sun Wukong, you would also not be able to escape my Five Finger Mountain*.” Prince Yu said silently, gritting his teeth, his entire expression overshadowed by extreme ruthlessness. Looking at him, one could not be sure if he was cursing Prince Jing or to drum up enthusiasm in his hollow heart.
*This is a reference to a place originating from the Legends of the Monkey King where the Monkey King was trapped by Buddha in the palm of his hands, caged in by his five fingers.

Just at that moment, hoofbeats could be heard clearly from the crossroads, their sound carrying particularly well on the especially quiet streets.

Prince Yu raised the thick cotton curtain covering the side window and looked out. He saw a fine purebred horse sporting an embroidered bridle and a magnificent saddle dashing down the mouth of the street with the troops looking on, before turning southwards. The rider astride the horse was clothed from head to toe in fashionable new clothes, with an embroidered lapel and a jade belt. Dazzling and ostentatious, he carried himself with the confident and distinguished air of nobility, and he was as pompous as a wild honey bee that had just gathered fresh nectar.
*this should have been literally translated to “newly picked fresh flowers” but since bees gather nectar, I thought “fresh nectar” would make a more appropriate translation

“It’s that kid…..Who would have thought that in the whole capital, he would be the most happy-go-lucky.” Looking at Yan Yujin’s disappearing back, Prince Yu released the window curtain and sighed softly with feeling, reflecting his complex state of mind.

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Afterthoughts:
After translating all those chapters containing MCS / Lin Shu’s back story + MCS / XJY scenes, it was difficult to plough through this chapter. But MCS wouldn’t be who he is without his adversaries, so plough through I did. It was nice, though, to observe the dynamics between Qin Banruo, Prince Yu and Princess Yu. I cannot help but feel sad that she has to try so hard to win her husband’s favor. And it was nice that Yan Yujin brought a close to this chapter in his typical style!

11 thoughts on “Chapter 123 : The Beginning

  1. Thank you for the chapter!

    I actually find this kind of chapter interesting. It gives more insight into the adversaries and make them more real imo.
    And yes it’s sad for Princess Consort Yu… that’s the royal family for you…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ah, but it was also MCS who helped to save his father during the gunpowder incident. So I would say he isn’t completely impartial, but the upcoming chapter offers an explanation! stay tuned!

      Like

  2. Thank you for the translation – I really enjoyed this chapter. Princess Yu is indeed a tragic figure. Since she refers to Qin Banruo as her “sister” I wondered if she was another Princess Xuanji follower, but I guess that’s unlikely if she is one of the nobility.

    Princess Xuanji is the character that I really wanted to know more about when watching the show. She is basically a female MCS – a brilliant shifu and mastermind, supported by extremely devoted followers in a quest for revenge (or justice in MCS’s case). I didn’t realize, until reading your translation of this chapter, that SHE was the architect of the Chiyan tragedy. I would have loved more backstory or flashbacks to see more of her brilliance, her motivations, her charisma and how she led and trained these devoted followers – basically, as a foil to MCS. If we knew more of her story (like maybe the Chiyan Army slaughtered her family and her nation), she’s not a faceless absent villain anymore, and we’d feel that she and her followers also have a just cause for what they are doing. Anyway – great chapter – I learned something new!

    Also, to answer your question at the top – personally I’m not Chinese, but I’ve traveled in Asia (Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan) and know just enough Mandarin to order street food! I bought the book Chineasy to learn some characters, but I’m no where close to being able to read sentences. So thank you very much for translating these chapters!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Ruby! It’s great to hear from you!

      Yes, it’s interesting that Princess Xuanji was the mastermind behind the Chiyan / Prince Qi tragedy, isn’t it? If I’m not mistaken, either in one of the earlier chapters or the discussions in eariler chapters, the Chiyan Army played a monumental role in wiping out her nation, so I guess she wanted payback! Karma sure is a bitch. It’ll be interesting to see what other reveals the book might have in future chapters!

      As for Princess Yu calling Qin Banruo sister, it’s actually very normal in Chinese culture for women of similar age to call each other “sister”, especially if they have regular association or are in the same “household” as Princess Yu and Qin Banruo appear to be.

      Thanks for sharing!! I always admire non-Chinese who try to learn Chinese, when we x-generation Chinese migrants sometimes want to dissociate ourselves from our cultural roots. It’s only in recent times with China’s advent, and the globalization of Chinese drama that some of us have started paying attention again to where our ancestors came from, and even then, Korean dramas are also giving the C-dramas a big run for their money! But I guess it can’t be helped either, since I suspect most of it is also a consequence of the “negative side effects” of our culture prevailing e.g. tiger mums, enforced patriarchalism and filial piety over feminism and individual needs. So we end up losing the objectivity that someone who’s not of our culture would possess.

      Like

      1. Yes, this is true of other x-generation migrants as well. I am guilty of never attempting to learn my parents’ languages, even though I love learning languages. Stories have alway been my gateway to learning and travel. When I was younger, I read mostly stories set in Europe or the Middle East/Egypt, and I was only interested in visiting and learning about those places I read about. I had no interest in other parts of the world. Watching C-dramas and K-dramas opened my eyes to new cultures, foods, languages and stories, and now I’ve lost all interest in traveling anywhere except Asia. I suppose I need to find some good books or dramas set in my motherland in order to kindle a desire to learn the languages. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. same here. Only English because at the time, my parents felt that was the only way to succeed in the world! I’m sure it would have been different if they had foreseen what a power China would be in the world today!!

        Like

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