Sorry for being away for such a long time! I am still planning on continuing the translation, it just takes awhile with so much going on!
The Princess Royal:长公主
To the several young Masters present, it was a surprise that the Emperor had allowed foreigners to contend for the honor of being Princess Nihuang’s husband. Xiao Jingrui was the first to ask: “Didn’t the Emperor consult with Princess Nihuang herself on how she felt about this?”
“Of course he asked, since Yunnan’s Prince Mu Qing came of age last month and will succeed the title, the Princess did agree, however, she added a few conditions. First, the one taking part in the competition must be the one asking for her marriage, and though she didn’t care about the written test, which was to be decided by the Emperor, in the martial arts test, she was to compete against the winner herself, not marrying unless she lost,” Yan Yujin drew out slowly.
After hearing this, the two brothers both let out a sigh of relief. Xie Bi cursed, “Stupid Yujin, you are deliberately teasing us! This way, it is much better; most of the martial arts masters from Da Yu and Northern Yan are ineligible since they are already married, and even the carefully selected ones from those who are not married– could they beat the only female martial arts master on the Lang Ya martial arts list?”
“They do not necessarily have to be beat her,” Mei Changsu interrupted again, “As long as the Princess takes a liking to them, then naturally, she would lose.”
“I think so too,” Yan Yujin smugly agreed, “You all know, the Princess has always liked me…”
Xie Bi spewed out all the tea he had just drank and coughed, “The….The Princess has always liked to scold you! Never mind frivolous people like you, Princess Nihuang, who has experienced the hardships of the battlefield, would most likely like a prudent, reliable man.”
“Ah,” Yan Yujin sighed, “Xie the Second, you are so cruel, can’t you allow one to dream…”
“Stop making jokes,” Xiao Jingrui gave him a shove, and continued, “This time, the Da Yu and Northern Yan have come with some beautiful dreams; even if they do not succeed, they will not lose anything, but if they do succeed…Think about it, not only would it be a marriage alliance, but to take the hand of a military genius… Their fame would suddenly increase quite a bit.”
“Both the Da Yu and Northern Yan have been rather politically unstable lately; both have groups that are vying in a cutthroat competition to become the Crown Prince. At this time, whichever Prince marries Princess Nihuang, it would be pretty much the same as taking the position of the Crown Prince.” added Mei Changsu in light tone.
“Brother Su’s words hit the mark. Even though they know that our imperial court of Da Liang is unlikely to allow Princess Nihuang to marry abroad, but they are still willing to bet an arm and a leg to try. If they somehow manage to succeed, then they would be sure to win when they return to their country. “Yan Yujin agreed, “I wonder who it is that gave them this idea; and to think they’ve actually mustered enough courage to come”
Mei Changsu eyed him with interest and asked, “How are you sure that someone else suggested this idea?”
Yan Yujin shrugged and said, “I don’t like randomly analyzing; this is only my intuition. Think about it, two countries have both thought of this idea, and put this idea into practice at the same time, is that really coincidental?”
“Who cares if it is coincidental or not, as long as Princess Nihuang doesn’t marry abroad, it will be okay.” Xie Bi waved, and turned toward Mei Changsu, “Brother Su, in your opinion, who will win this competition?”
Mei Changsu laughed, “I’m not a fortune teller, how would I know? Even if I had the money to go buy the answer from the Lang Ya Hall, it is too late to do so.”
“Earlier, you could guess whatever it is Yujin asked; I thought you could actually predict the future.” Xie Bi laughed aloud.
“I’ll tell you the truth,”Mei Changsu smiled, “Actually, I didn’t guess it.”
“You didn’t guess?” Yan Yujin’s interest was immediately piqued, “Brother Su, do you really know how to predict fortunes?”
“The mysteries of life, how could an ordinary fool like me predict it?” Mei Changsu replied, as he pulled out a silk document from his sleeve, “I didn’t guess, I knew about this beforehand. It’s all written on here…”
Yan Yujin curiously took the silk scroll,and when the three huddled around it and looked, two of them shouted out in surprise.
“This is written by the ruler of Da Yu himself, the letter of credence asking for marriage!” Xie Bi said with his eyes open wide, “Why is it in your hands?”
“Ah, that day in the restaurant of the county town… The diplomatic emissaries really did lose their letter of credence….” Yan Yujin tilted his head and looked at Mei Changsu, “Brother Su, do you have nothing better to do but steal their letter of credence?”
“You are correct, I have nothing better to do, so I stole it.” Mei Changsu smiled in his usual manner, light as the pale clouds and gentle as the breeze, “At the time, I was told to go out and catch some fresh air, and was very bored. It just so happened that the Da Yu emissaries were staying at the inn and restaurant that are the property of the Jiang Zuo Alliance: the shopkeeper told me they had a sandalwood box that was heavily protected, so it must’ve been something important. In a moment of curiosity, I sent Fei Liu to bring it to me to have a look. I didn’t expect it to be a letter of credence. Such matters have nothing to do with us people in the Jing Hu, and I was not very interested; I originally wanted to put it back where it belonged, but I didn’t expect them to find that it was missing so quickly–so I could only ‘not return’ it.”
The three of them had all seen the astounding abilities of Fei Liu, and were not surprised that it was Fei Liu who took it, what they were amazed at was the Jiang Zuo Alliance’s absolute power over their domain. They were indeed worthy of their reputation as the world’s largest alliance. Yet after some careful thought, the largest alliance was still in want of a sense of responsibility, since they had allowed their Chief to be ‘kicked out’ like this. Leaving him to wander around bored, to flip through other countries’ letters of credence…Weren’t they afraid he will stir up some trouble?
“By the way, are there any conditions or limitations on who is allowed to participate in the competition?” Xiao Jingrui brought the conversation back on topic.
“Of course, they have to have a clean family background, an appropriate age, be handsome in appearance, and are not yet married…”
“Ah,” Xie Bi cried out, “Then my brother can participate as well!”
“Me?” said Xiao Jingrui, shocked. “Even though I respect Princess Nihuang, I have never thought about…”
“I’m not telling you to go because you will win,” Xie Bi pulled at his sleeve and continued, “The more people of Da Liang who participate, the less chance there is that Da Yu or the Northern Yan will win. You are so talented, you could definitely eliminate a lot of opponents, and help Princess Nihuang filter out unqualified candidates.”
“What is there to hesitate about? I barely know anything about martial arts, there would be no point for me to sign up; you at least are considered a martial arts master, and Brother Su gave you pointers during the journey. You can even consider it gaining some experience.” Xie Bi, allowing no further arguments, said, “Yujin, tomorrow you go sign him up.”
“No need to worry about that, I have already signed him up earlier.”Yan Yujin happily replied.
“Don’t be nervous,” Mei Changsu comforted him, “I am very clear about your martial arts skills, to win would be impossible, but what is the harm in competing in a few rounds?”
“You consider this comforting me?” Xiao Jingrui didn’t know whether or not he should cry, “Am I the easiest person to bully?”
Xie Bi thought of another problem, “Not only the nobility of the capital know about this right? The masters of the martial arts Jiang Hu may come and participate as well?”
“Of course they may come. This kind of news, even if they wanted to hide it, they may not be able to. Even more, the Emperor has taken this as a chance to find her the best husband, also to help comfort her in the loneliness of battle. On the way back to the capital, have you all not noticed the many warriors who have been coming to Jinling?”
The three of them thought carefully, and slowly seemed to remember; it was only because there were so many people entering the capital that they had not noticed.
“Okay, I am done chatting with you guys,” Yan Yujin stood up and took a stretch lazily, “I need to go home and rest, I will prepare to show off my abilities after three days, defeat all the heroes and masters of martial arts, then mount the Lang Ya martial arts masters list…”
Xie Bi glanced sideways at him, “This person, not even asleep and already dreaming…”
“It is time to leave, we do not want to disturb Brother Su’s rest,” Xiao Jingrui said, “Fei Liu has already been sleeping for a long time.”
Everybody turned around to see Fei Liu, still dressed, lying on the bed, without even closing the drapery. His eyes were closed and he was already sleeping soundly.
“Even sleeping he looks like an ice cube…” Yan Yujin had just finished making his comment when Fei Liu’s eyes suddenly flew open, scaring Yujin so much that he pointed at Xiao Jingrui and cried, “He was the one who said that!”
Fei Liu’s open eyes didn’t seem to find anything to focus on, and thus instantly shut them again.
“Rest assured, he already recognizes your voice,” Mei Changsu smiled, “If it were a stranger’s voice, Fei Liu would wake up immediately.”
“Good, good,” Yan Yujin patted his chest and said, “Then we shall take our leave, Brother Su, please rest early.”
Mei Changsu rose and watched them leave from the door, then returned to his room.
The ten o’clock drums sounded just then; Mei Changsu paused in his steps and wordlessly listened for a moment while gazing at the silent Marquis’ Prefecture in the dark night. After a long time, he slowly shut the door.
The city of Jinling had always been known for its excitement, and naturally the center of it was where the Da Liang emperor’s palace was situated. From the south gate, there was a winding, red brick path, that connected to an exquisite mansion that was independent, yet also a part of the palace.
The layout of the mansion was not considered large, but if one were to use the size of the mansion to determine the identity of the owner, they would most likely be seriously mistaken. The main entrance of the mansion was not open throughout most of the year, on the lintel there hung a black plaque with an intricate gold trim. On it was written, in the official script style reserved for government officials, perfectly and neatly: “The Liyang Prefecture.”
The Princess Royal Liyang, the current emperor’s only living sister, the Marquis of Ning, Xie Yu’s wife.
Anyone in the capital who was a little bit older, still clearly remembered all the commotion from the year that the previous Emperor married off his beloved daughter. The newlywed couple who looked down over the commoners from the lofty Yingfeng Tower, were the perfect definition of a beauty and a hero. Twenty-six years flew by, and the two were still in-love as ever, respectful towards each other, and had three sons and one daughter. All were highly educated and polite–to the people, they were the shining model of a perfect family.
Originally, by royal conventions, after Princess Liyang married Xie Yu, Xie Yu would have had to change residence to the Princess’ Manor, and would be called the Prince Consort instead of the Marquis. Due to the wishes of the Princess herself, and in addition, the late Empress Dowager was always against the daughter being in a more exalted position within the husband’s family, which she believed would hinder her from experiencing the true joys of having her own family. After the wedding ceremony, Princess Liyang moved to the Prefecture of the Marquis of Ning, and was respectful to her in-laws. As the Princess was naturally virtuous, she ordered all to call her “Lady,” when inside the Ning Prefecture, and furthermore she strictly kept the servants she brought from the Palace in line. After Xie Yu achieved meritorious military service, and became ever more elevated and due to the Princess purposefully maintaining a low-profile, the government officials and the public gradually became accustomed to viewing the two as the “Marquis” and “Marquise,” rather than the “Princess,” and “Prince Consort.”
The Liyang Prefecture was built when the Princess came of age at 15, but ever since her marriage, the prefecture had been vacant. The Princess thought it would be a pity to leave the prefecture idle, and thus had a garden full of exotic flowers and plants planted, which was fragrant all year round. The consorts and nobility often asked to tour the sight, and it was one of the top sceneries to view in the capital. When the Princess fasted, worshipped, or when the Grand Empress Dowager came to visit, the Princess moved back to her prefecture for a few days.
When Xiao Jingrui and Xie Bi returned, their mother just so happened to be staying at the Princess Prefecture.
It was an early morning, and the brothers, as per their father’s orders, headed towards the Liyang Prefecture to wait. As they arrived, the Princess Royal’s sedan chair had already been prepared, and was at the side door. Obviously, the arrival of the brothers did not need to be announced. They made their way directly into the main hall, where they saw their mother, who had finished dressing and was being led out by her maids. The brothers quickly bowed and greeted her.
“Rise.” Princess Liyang smiled, and extended her hand to help them up. She had always been rather reserved, and even the servants who had served her for many years had never seen her lose her composure for even a second. Xiao Jingrui had not returned for many days, and even though she missed him and had worried about him often, she did not show it on her face. She only gazed upon him for an extra second, and did not anxiously ask about his well-being.
“Father ordered me to accompany mother back to the prefecture.” Xie Bi had grown up around Princess Liyang longer, and compared to his brother, seemed more close, but still far from the affection of the families of commoners, where children could jump into hugs and be spoiled. Though he stepped forward to hold the arm of his mother in support, it could only be described as respectful.
“Jingrui, are you doing well lately?” Princess Liyang asked.
“Thank you mother for asking, all is well.”
“Your father has gone to attend court?”
After this short exchange of words, the three did not say anymore, went out and climbed into the carriage.
After entering the prefecture of the marquis, the carriage came to a stop outside the door, and the two brothers, one on the right, and one on the left, accompanied their mother out. Since the Marquis’ parents were both deceased, there was no need for them to greet them, and so Princess Liyang instructed that they return directly to her own quarters.
Following the corridor they passed the side courtyard, where alongside the wall only osmanthus trees were planted. As the blooming season was not yet over, a lingering fragrance hung in the air. Princess Liyang slowed down her pace slightly, as if she were enjoying the fragrance of the wind, and a touch of a smile surfaced upon her lips. At the same time, the sound of a guqin1; drifted across from the other side of the walls. Although it could not be clearly heard due to the distance, it’s ethereal resonance evoked a desire to cleanse one of worldly stains.
“Who is playing the guqin? Such an extraordinary ambience.”
Xiao Jingrui carefully listened for a bit, then responded, “This is a friend of mine, his surname is Su and is named Zhe, I invited him to Jinling for a short stay while he recovers; he is staying in the Snow Cottage right now.”
“Would mother like to meet this person?” Xie Bi hurriedly asked.
Princess Liyang smiled faintly, “Since he is Jingrui’s friend, the two of you should just take care of him, why would there be a need for me to see him?”
“But you cannot clearly hear the music from here; why don’t I invite Brother Su to the inner courtyard, to play for mother, but separated by a curtain?” Xie Bi suggested.
Princess Liyang knitted her eyebrows slightly, but her tone remained calm and soft, “Bi-er 2 , Su-xiansheng has come as a guest, not as a musician to entertain us, how could he be at our beck and call like that? With good luck, I will be able to hear him play again in the future, and if not, it cannot be forced.”
Xiao Jingrui, upon first hearing his second-brother’s suggestion, had had the same thought as Princess Liyang, and was rather unhappy, but seeing that his mother had refused the offer, did not say anything more. Xie Bi’s intention was not to be rude, but it was due to habits that he had had since he was young, he had always felt that his mother had an exalted status, and should call upon whomever if she enjoyed their playing, and did not think much more than that. He was reproached as a result of this, and his face flushed bright red.
After they reached the inner courtyard, Princess Liyang sat on a long couch near the window, and once the servants had left after serving tea and pastries, motioned for her sons to sit at her side; the atmosphere was not as formal and cold as it was before, and they began to converse more casually.
In the morning, Xiao Jingrui had been to the Snow Cottage already, but at the time, Mei Changsu seemed not to have risen yet, and with Fei Liu guarding outside refusing to let anyone in, he had not seen Mei Changsu. Although he was now chatting with his mother, the thought that he had not gone to greet his guest yet felt inappropriate, especially since he’d only just arrived a day ago.
Princess Liyang had always been intuitive–how could she not see how absent minded her son was? Thus, she gently said, “Both of you must still have your own things to do; there is no need for the two of you to stay here with me. Reading quietly by myself is a better past time for me as well, you two may go.”
“Mother, what are you saying?” Xie Bi quickly said, “Of course your sons should accompany and entertain you”
“What fun is there in being accompanied by you two boys? It would be better for you to marry a virtuous and filial wife so she could accompany me, that would be true filial piety. There is no need for you two to dawdle around here anymore, you are free to leave.”
Xie Bi had much business to take care of both in and out of the household, and Xiao Jingrui wanted to go see Mei Changsu, thus the two did not say anything more, bowed, and left the inner courtyard.
“Father will be going to the Commander Hong’s manor to celebrate his birthday, and I need to arrange the birthday greetings and gifts. I must trouble you to tell Brother Su that I will not be able to go greet him today.” Xie Bi hastily explained to Xiao Jingrui outside the second door, and the two departed on their separate ways.
1. Guqin: a plucked seven-string Chinese musical instrument of the zither family. It has been played since ancient times, and has traditionally been favored by scholars as an instrument of great subtlety and refinement, as well as being associated with the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius
2. Bi-er: “Er” added at the end of a name is used as a term of affection