<Hai Yan> I’ve received the results, there is no recurrence, no recurrence, I am very healthy today……la la la……^
———————This is a celebratory dividing line———————
After approximately the time it takes to burn an incense, Xia Jiang reentered the pavilion. Mei Changsu remained seated, his body slanted as he leaned on the stone table, his eyes slightly lowered, staring at the graphite covered floor.
“Mister Su, have you finished thinking about it?”
“No,” Mei Changsu sighed in reply, and said, “When it comes to life and death, sages and men of virtue have often made the wrong choice, let alone me.”
“Sages and men of virtue have never themselves chosen death. They only know how to tell others to die.” Xia Jiang’s voice was colder than the north wind that was howling outside the pavilion, “When this Wujin pill is in your stomach, you will understand that staying alive is always the right choice.”
Mei Changsu fixed his gaze on the unremarkable black little pill Xia Jiang held in his hand, and it began to take some effort to keep the smile on his face. “I guess I don’t have a choice but to eat it? Since I am in your hands.”
Xia Jiang did not respond. Instead, he stepped forward and grabbed hold of Mei Changsu’s lower jaw.
“Wait, wait wait……” Mei Changsu struggled briefly, “Can we be a little more refined? I will take it on my own.”
Xia Jiang fixed his eyes on him briefly, then released his hand and handed over the Wujin pill he was holding in his palm. Mei Changsu picked it up with his fingers, put it in front of him and looked at it carefully for a while before asking, “Is it bitter?”
“Mei Changsu,” Xia Jiang said calmly, “Why are you delaying it? This is Xuanjing Bureau. Who’s going to come rescue you?”
“One can never be certain about that.” Mei Changsu toyed with the black pill between his fingertips. “What if someone really comes? If I can delay it, then I had better delay it. Once I’ve eaten it, I will become your puppet. I would have no choice but to say anything you want me to say. I think that’s something that would be difficult to endure.”
“Mr Su is a truly wise man to be able to understand this point.”Xia Jiang’s gaze locked onto him. “I’ve said it before. There has never been a prisoner that the Xuanjing Bureau hasn’t been able to handle. Either you do as I say or you die. There is no third option.”
Mei Changsu laughed bitterly. “Looks like I had underestimated you. I should have fled.”
“Do you really believe that you can escape? This is the capital city, not Jiangzuo. Your Jianghu’s influence here is limited, and Prince Jing wouldn’t be able to put up this pretense for long. The person in full control here is still His Majesty. As long as he agrees to an interrogation, who would be able to protect you?” Xia Jiang leaned over and looked down at him, “Mei Changsu, from the moment you made the worst possible choice of helping Prince Jing to rescue Wei Zheng, every step you took was fraught with danger, with not a peaceful day in sight.”
Mei Changsu’s expression was finally solemn. He put the pill in the centre of his palm and cradled it, slowly saying, “Director Xia, may I ask you a question?”
A faint smile flitted across Xia Jiang’s lips, and he sat down. Mei Changsu was finally willing to negotiate seriously with him. For him, as long as his opponent was open to negotiation, he could take advantage of it and turn it into an opportunity to achieve his objectives.
“Alright, go ahead and ask.”
“You asked me earlier why I didn’t want to pass my days free and unfettered in Jiangzuo, but wanted to be swept up in the centre of this capital’s whirlpool,” Mei Changsu slowly raised his eyes from the Wujin pill to look Xia Jiang in the face, “I would now like to ask you a similar question. In all this time through past generations, Xuanjing Bureau had never embroiled themselves in court politics, adopting an impartial position. His Majesty’s faith in you is also incomparable. So, why are you embroiling yourself in these muddy waters?”
“Hunting traitors down has always been Xuanjing Bureau’s responsibility and also a demonstration of our loyalty to His Majesty.”
“Then wouldn’t it suffice to lock Wei Zheng up in Xuanjing Bureau and keep an eye on him? And once the new year has passed and court sessions resume, get an imperial decree to execute him? That would have been simpler and less complicated.” Mei Changsu responded unhurriedly. “Why did you deliberately reveal your flaws to set up a trap? Were you worried that Prince Jing wouldn’t make a move?”
Xia Jiang’s countenance remained unchanged as he said, “Revealing a traitor’s true colors is also an act of loyalty to His Majesty.”
“You’re not being honest,” Mei Changsu shook his head, “But it doesn’t matter. I’m just asking casually, but I already know.”
“What do you know?”
“I know why you must set up a deathtrap for Prince Jing.”
“Oh?” Xia Jiang sat down again, and said with curiosity, “Why don’t you tell me and see.”
“”Because you’re afraid of him.”
“Afraid of who? Prince Jing?” Xia Jiang laughed contemptuously, “How did you come to such a ridiculous conclusion? Why would I be afraid of Prince Jing?”
“You’re afraid of Prince Jing,” Mei Changsu repeated calmly. “Just like you were afraid of Prince Qi back then.”
Xia Jiang’s laughter did not cease but when he turned his head, there was a cold gleam in his eyes.
Mei Changsu stared back, his gaze steady and unwavering. “Prince Qi once planned to dissolve Xuanjing Bureau. He felt that a truly wise ruler did not need an organization like Xuanjing Bureau by his side, which is why he had made a suggestion to His Majesty to incorporate Xuanjing Bureau into the Imperial Court of Justice, and had requested for an imperial edict to look into this. Of course, the Imperial Court of Justice he had in mind was not the messy and disorderly one that exists today.”
A murderous look swept over Xia Jiang’s eyes, but Mei Changsu didn’t bother looking at him and continued, “Very few people knew that His Majesty had withheld this proposal. But you knew about it. You also knew that even if Prince Qi couldn’t implement his proposal at the time, he would have eventually implemented it himself sometime in the future.”
Xia Jiang suddenly got up, and this time he didn’t bother concealing his expression. His eyes were fierce as arrows, fired resentfully at his enemy.
“You were relieved when this threat died with Prince Qi, until Prince Jing rose to a high position. Prince Jing had grown up under Prince Qi’s instruction, and he has an even greater dislike for Xuanjing Bureau. If Prince Qi had once contemplated how to find a suitable position for you after dissolving Xuanjing Bureau, this is something Prince Jing would never even consider. It would be generous of him if he doesn’t subject you to dismemberment by five horses.” Mei Changsu’s voice became increasingly soft while Xia Jiang clenched his jaw even more tightly. “For you, inheriting the generations old Xuanjing Bureau tradition is important because owning Xuanjing Bureau means owning the privilege and prerogative that comes with it. But just for this sake, you disregard everything on earth to falsely accuse a virtuous prince. This is the work of a demon. Xia Jiang, you are a demon, and you know this in your own heart.”
This poisonous tumour that had been hidden for so long was suddenly cut open and exposed, and dark black pus and blood burst forth. In a split second, Xia Jiang’s expression turned savage. He grabbed Mei Changsu by the front of his jacket, dragged him up and gripped him firmly by the neck. “I understand now…..You’re not here to support Prince Jing, but to reverse Xiao Jingyu’s verdict! Who are you, really? Were you previously from Prince Qi’s household?”
“I’m just someone who admires and respects His Highness Prince Qi,” Mei Changsu smiled faintly. “In those years, the people who admired and respected Prince Qi could be found everywhere, but you probably already know that.”
Xia Jiang’s hand tightened. Mei Changsu suddenly felt a sharp pain in his throat and he was unable to breathe. Just as his vision began to darken, he suddenly felt the pressure ease. His entire being collapsed all at once and the Wujin pill rolled onto the ground. Xia Jiang immediately picked it up and stuffed it along with the dirt into Mei Changsu’s mouth, then pushed him back forcefully, forcing him to swallow it.
“Really, really not…..not refined…..” Mei Changsu said with a smile as he coughed, gasping for breath. “Swallow….cough….Wujin pill, with, with a sip of tea…..cough….also not……given to me…..”
“What Qilin talent, what Gentleman Mei of Jiangzuo,” Xia Jiang’s tone was indescribably ruthless. “I would like to see how long you can remain elegant?”
“I……No matter how elegant, I can’t compare…..cough…..can’t compare to Director Xia’s great nerve,” Mei Changsu took a while to calm himself down then said, “Why did you force me to eat the pill? After everything that had been said, do you actually still dare to let me meet His Majesty?”
“You can go and meet His Majesty, but you won’t have an opportunity to speak,“ Xia Jiang dragged him up from the ground and threw him onto the stone bench. “Right now, I just want you to die. But you will not die in Xuanjing Bureau. That’s right. You’re too powerful, so powerful to the extent that I am afraid, so powerful that no matter what you say, I dare not record your confession and report it to His Majesty because I am unable to foresee what trap you have laid within. But what’s the use of being so powerful when those words would be useless once you’re dead? I admit now that I can’t compete against you, but…..I can take your life. Once I’ve dealt with you, I’ll deal with Prince Jing….”
At this point, Xia Jiang’s face suddenly changed, and he turned around shouting sternly, “Who is it?”
Just when he had finished speaking, a slender silhouette slowly emerged from the rockery next to the weeping willow. Against her completely black dress, Xia Dong’s looked even more pale, and her red eyes looked intently at her shifu, her face expressionless.
“Dong’er,” Xia Jiang said, startled, “How did you get here?”
“Because we’re in Xuanjing Bureau, Chun xiong was a little careless so I found a way to shake him off.” Xia Dong walked forward slowly, her eyes confused. “After all these years of receiving instruction from shifu, if I couldn’t even pull this off, how could I still call myself a Xuanjing official?”
After all, she was a disciple he had groomed from the time she was young. Xia Jiang’s expression was a little uneasy. “When did you get here?”
“I was here before shifu became so agitated.” Xia Dong paused on the pavilion steps and raised her head. Her complexion was white as snow and her eyes brimmed with tears. “Shifu, I’ve always believed that the values Xuanjing Bureau had passed down for generations were loyalty to the ruler, justice and the elimination of corruption from the imperial court. You’d always taught me this before…..but why am I unable to understand what you are doing today?”
“Because shifu is interrogating a criminal. You should leave.” Xia Jiang coldly interrupted her.
“Even if he is a criminal, since when did Xuanjing Bureau force poison into criminals’ mouths? How is it something I am not aware of?”
Mei Changsu smiled and interjected, “It’s always been around. This Wujin pill has also been handed down through the generations. It’s not your shifu’s creation, so don’t accuse him wrongly. It’s just that he hasn’t passed it down to you, that’s all.”
Xia Jiang didn’t look back at him but pressed down on Mei Changsu’s ya xue* with a flick of his hand. Still looking at Xia Dong, he said, “Dealing with extraordinary people requires extraordinary measures. There are many matters you do not know about so please do not ask about them.”
*it literally translates into “dumb acupoint” so I presume it was a move to shut Mei Changsu up
Xia Dong inhaled deeply to compose herself, then replied slowly, word by word, “Shifu, I can choose not to inquire into other matters, but I cannot ignore what the both of you were discussing just now. That year…..that court case concerning Prince Qi, it is related directly to me. I would like to know, what was your role in it?”
“Such impudence!” Xia Jiang finally stopped all pretense. “Is this how you interrogate your shifu? Your behavior has been very disappointing of late. Is this what Mei Changsu has put into your mind? Prince Qi rebelled and deserved his punishment! Have you forgotten that it’s because of this that your husband died at Lin Xie’s hands?”
Through her tears, Xia Dong looked at this elderly man whom she had respected for so many years. She felt great despair, and felt herself give up any remaining hope she might have had. Mei Changsu sat looking at her from the stone bench, his gaze gentle and sympathetic. He could sense Xia Dong’s sorrow and anger at this moment, but the truth was the truth. Sooner or later, it would have shattered the illusion of tender feelings, revealing the cold and despicable face twisted by selfish desire hiding behind it.
“Shifu, tu’er* is begging you for the last time…..give him the antidote and turn back……” Xia Dong’s voice trembled with desolation. A murderous expression flashed through Xia Jiang’s eyes, frightening her to the bone, but she did not flee, “Heaven’s law is written in the heart. If you’re unable to repent, even if you kill ten Mei Changsu, it would be useless….”
Xia Jiang’s face was as still as the surface of a frozen river, showing no signs of thawing. Although he had no intention of killing her at the moment, it wasn’t because of any sentiments he had for their master-disciple relationship. Rather, he had to take into consideration Xia Dong’s position as a third-rank Xuanjing official and her status as a general’s widow, so he couldn’t just do as he wished.
But a deadlock could not be sustained for long. After a moment’s hesitation, Xia Jiang seized hold of Mei Changsu and lifted him up, at the same time emitting a loud shriek. Xia Dong understood what this shriek meant and slowly closed her eyes, standing calmly, cold and silent.
When the lingering sound of the high pitched shriek finally faded away, Xia Chun and Xia Qiu quickly appeared, one behind the other. They approached swiftly from a distance, and were only a few leaps away from the front of the pavilion. What was surprising was that Xia Qiu was at this moment dressed exactly the same as Xia Dong, wearing the same black female skirt and a similar hair clasp on the head. Xia Jiang only needed one glance to understand how Xia Dong managed to evade Xia Chun.*
*in case we’ve forgotten, Xia Qiu and Xia Dong are twins
“Shifu,” Xia Chun realized his own mistake at that moment, and he turned green. He hurried before Xia Jiang and made his salutations, “Forgive tu’er for overlooking his duties. Tu’er wasn’t paying attention…….”
“It goes without saying. Bring Xia Dong back to her room and watch her closely. She is not allowed to leave without my command, and no one is allowed to be in contact with her.”
Xia Qiu was obviously the only one who didn’t understand the state of affairs. He was startled and immediately rushed forward to ask, “Shifu, did Dong’er commit any offense? Why are you punishing her so severely?”
“You especially will not be allowed to meet her in private without my permission!” Xia Jiang narrowed his eyes, his voice even more stern.
“Forget it Qiu xiong,”Xia Dong smiled sadly, her chest twisted inside out with the anguish of severing everything she had ever believed in. “There is no need to say more. Shifu wanted to teach me something new, but I am unable to learn it, and I don’t want to learn it. That’s why he is angry…..”
Xia Qiu looked at her blankly and turned again to look at shifu’s ironclad expression, obviously not understanding. At this moment, Xia Chun stepped forward to tug at Xia Dong’s arm, signalling her to follow him. Xia Dong did not resist and turned around obediently. She looked at Xia Chun with her cold sad eyes and said, “Chun xiong, have you already learnt these skills from shifu?”
Xia Qiu turned away, avoiding her gaze, and transferred his grip to her wrist. As she was pulled away, Xia Dong turned her head to glance at Mei Changsu. The latter still couldn’t speak and could only smile faintly in her direction, a smile that was kind and gentle. Xia Dong couldn’t hold back her tears anymore and they began to roll down her cheeks.
These were the Xuanjing lady officer’s final tears of weakness. As they fell silently onto the dusty ground, Xia Dong’s heart condensed into ice.
The final scene where Xia Dong broke down after Mei Changsu smiled at her….that moved me in a way the TV series didn’t. Such heartache for her shifu’s heartless betrayal. And Mei Changsu totally getting it, because it parallels his own personal experience all those 13 years ago.
In Chapter 130, Hai Yan posted that she was having her annual check up with her doctor. In this chapter, she celebrated not having a recurrence. Being a 2-year breast cancer survivor, it resonated so much with me. Having gone for my own personal scans just last week, I realized that the worry of recurrence will never really go away.
In her preamble in Chapter 130, she also mentioned how “writing about a lunatic doesn’t make her a lunatic”. And then in this chapter, she wrote about Xia Jiang’s tumour. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I’ve always believed that art in any form, including creative writing, makes for a very good way to heal, and is a way to externalize and excise one’s fears and worries. Maybe that’s also one of the reasons why this is such a great story.