Rougher translation as my lovely friends have not edited and given suggestions! Feel free to give suggestions 🙂
Chapter 11: Xiao Jingning
When Xiao Jingning walked into the restaurant dressed in a pale blue robe with a brocade silk sash tied around her waist, jeweled shoes on her feet, and a fan in her hand that she occasionally used to block half of her face– she looked just like a dapper scholar. Unfortunately, other than herself, just about everyone else could tell that she was a girl dressed as a boy.
However, the capital was filled with nobility and there were many eccentric habits of the nobles as well. Seeing the girl’s unmistakable air of nobility, it was evident that she was of high status, and thus everyone acted as if they did not see through her act. Even the waiter called her a “gentleman,” as if he could not in the slightest tell that she was a young lady.
Xiao Jingning did not even take one look at the bustling hall downstairs, and quickly asked the waiter for a private room. As she was led to the room upstairs, she coincidentally came face to face with Yan Yujin and the others at his table.
“Jingning…” After struggling to withhold his shock and the first thoughts that came to his mind, Xiao Jingrui immediately rushed over to her, dragging her to their table, lowering his voice and questioned, “How did you come out here? This is against the rules and not proper at all!
“What rules?” Xiao Jingning glared, but worried about exposing her identity through her voice, did not yell too loudly, “You guys are out and about every single day, this is my first time coming outside alone, ever!”
“Are you like us? You are a princess, how could you ever appear in a wine or tea house?!”
“So what if I am a princess? A princess should be stuck in the palace and be bored to death? Anyways, I came here with Mother Empress.”
Yan Yujin was incredulous, looked around and whispered, “I don’t see her? Where is the Empress?”
Xiao Jingning rolled her eyes, “Stupid, how could Mother Empress be here? She was invited by Aunt Liyang, and went to cousin Jingrui’s place. I begged her for quite a bit until she agreed to take me with her. Right now, they are chatting, and don’t need me with them, so I found an excuse and said that I would return to the palace. Halfway back, I found an opportunity to slip away and come here, do you know how hard it was?”
“How could you do that?” Xiao Jingrui was even more anxious now, “You didn’t even inform the Empress, quick, I’ll take you back.”
“I want to play some more,” Princess Jingning said, stubborn as usual, “I dressed up so carefully, and have not caused any trouble at all. I just want to stroll down the streets a little more and then I will go back. If older sister Nihuang can go into battle, why can’t I even take a walk in the streets?”
“Can you be compared to Princess Nihuang?” Yan Yujin made a face and said, “But as long as you aren’t afraid of being punished by the Empress, why should we care about you?”
Xiao Jingning looked around rather uneasily, evidently feeling guilty. Yet in order to seem unperturbed, she shifted her glance to Mei Changsu, asking, “This is…?”
“This is our friend, Su Zhe, Su-xiansheng,” Yan Yujin introduced.
“Su Zhe…” Xiao Jingning tilted her head and thought for a bit, then suddenly jumped onto her feet, crying, “You are Su Zhe?! I heard that you have a guard, and after over a hundred moves did not lose to General Commander Meng, where is he? Can I meet him?”
Xiao Jingrui and Mei Changsu did not have time to stop her, and quickly looked around. Every guest on the second floor had been shocked by her words, and turned to stare at them.
Hearing that someone had fought Meng Zhi, and not lost after one hundred moves was already news, and the fact that he was only a mere guard made everyone even more curious–what was the identity of the owner of such a guard?
“Don’t shout!” Xiao Jingrui anxiously said, “You don’t know anything about martial arts, and you don’t even know what one hundred moves by General Meng means, so stop talking nonsense!”
“Maybe I don’t know anything,” Princess Jingning huffed, “But older sister Nihuang knows,and she was at your house earlier. Hearing cousin Xie Bi say this, she was very surprised and said that this must be an extraordinary guard. She wants to meet him!”
Upon hearing this, Xiao Jingrui realized that he had made a big mistake. He should have immediately taken Jingning away from this place, and not stopped to argue here. It was too late now, and the more they argued, the more she said, and although she was not speaking very loudly, with the number of martial arts masters that were at this tea house, someone was bound to have heard. Now with the news that he has an extraordinary guard that even the Princess Nihuang wanted to meet, it seems that after today, it would be hard to not know who Su Zhe is.
Now that he had realized his mistake, he was not about to continue making the same mistake, and dragged Jingning out, leaving curious eyes trailing behind them. The four of them left the tea house, and walked through the busy streets until they found a secluded alley.
“Why did you drag me here?” Princess Jingning was evidently unhappy. “Even if you are my older cousin, you still don’t have the right to control me!”
“Your royal highness,” Xiao Jingrui’s began to raise his voice, “You are a Princess, and I am only a Noble. Yes, I can’t control you. But since you have left the palace, and I have run into you, it’s not like I can just pretend I don’t know you! Besides, how could you speak so loudly about what happened when there are so many other people present? This will bring a lot of trouble to Brother Su, do you know that?”
“I didn’t do it on purpose, I was just really surprised.” Princess Jingning huffed again, “How much trouble can he be in? I’m a princess, and he is only a citizen, what is there that I can’t protect him from? He’s not even angry, so what are you so upset about?”
Mei Changsu smiled wryly, as the reason he wasn’t angry was that there was no point in being angry. He should have left the tea house earlier, thus avoiding an encounter with this rambunctious Princess. With all her talking, and the rate at which people in the capital city gossiped, the news of a guard battling with General Meng, and then being spoken of highly by the Princess Nihuang, was bound to be known by all within a couple days. Yet for the time being, he could not worry much about that, because as soon as Princess Jingning had finished speaking, Xiao Jingrui’s face darkened, visibly infuriated at how lightly she viewed the situation. But, after all, she was a Princess, and with her status, if Xiao Jingrui were to yell at her, soon enough, the newest news would be that the “gentlemanly Noble Xiao Jingrui, in order to protect Su Zhe, dared to engage in fierce conflict with the Princess,” thus furthering interest in who Su Zhe is. So before Xiao Jingrui could open his mouth, he grabbed Jingrui’s arm and said, “Jingrui, I am rather tired, let us return to the prefecture.”
Xiao Jingrui was startled by his words, but quickly understood Mei Changsu’s intent when he turned around and made eye contact. He forced himself to hold in his anger, and turned towards Yan Yujin, saying, “Yujin, I have to take Brother Su back to the prefecture, can you please take the Princess…”
After finishing only half his sentence, Jingrui suddenly realized that the expression on Yan Yujin’s face was not quite right, as his usual smile had disappeared, and the look in his eyes made it very obvious that he was not happy. However, Xiao Jingrui could not come up with a single reason as to why Yujin was upset, and thus asked, “What is wrong?”
Finally being asked the question he was waiting for, Yan Yujin angrily accused, “You didn’t tell me!”
“Tell you what?”
“About Fei Liu and General Meng! I have been with you for the entire day, and not once have you brought this up!!”
“Uh…This…” Xiao Jingrui didn’t know how to respond, saying, “Well it has already past, and we had a lot of fun today, so we didn’t think about telling you about it…”
“You didn’t even think of me!” Yan Yujin said with his teeth clenched, bitterly stomping the ground, “Oh my, to think that Fei Liu and General Meng engaged in combat! Such excitement and I missed it, this is such….So much for trying to experience the excitement in the capital city…”
“Come on Yujin,” Xiao Jingrui forced a smile, “Even if we told you, you wouldn’t have been able to see it…”
“And that’s why I’m so mad,” Yan Yujin scornfully responded, “For General Meng to engage in combat is already very rarely seen, and with Fei Liu… Fei Liu!”
“The guard’s name is Fei Liu?” Xiao Jingning inquired curiously.
“Why are you asking so many questions?” said Xiao Jingrui, whose anger had not subsided.
Princess Jingning ignored him, and directly asked Mei Changsu, “Hey, uh…Su Zhe, is your guard here? Call him out for me to see.”
“Your highness,” Mei Changsu lightly responded, “Although Fei Liu is my guard, he is more like my brother. He comes and goes as he pleases, and I do not arbitrarily summon him. I am afraid that I will have to disappoint you.”
“Oh?” Princess Jingning raised her eyebrows and smiled coldly, “You are quite proud yourself, is he this arrogant as well? I am the Princess, and if I summon him, does he dare not to come?”
Mei Changsu held back an enraged Xiao Jingrui, quietly telling him, “Don’t worry about it, I can persuade her to go back.” He smiled, and calmly said, “Can we have a word together?”
Hearing Mei Changsu’s request, Princess Jingning was taken by surprise, asking, “What do you want to say? Can’t we say it here?”
Mei Changsu smiled, but did not say anything as he slowly moved to the side. Xiao Jingning could not hold in her curiosity, and thus followed him.
“As a Princess, you are royalty and of high status, and not to be seen by commoners. Even if you wanted to summon him, and Fei Liu was willing to come, I’m afraid they would never let such an order leave the palace.” Mei Changsu first refuted her words, and then quietly continued, “To go to the heavenly altars and perform atonement rituals is an excuse that will be easily seen through. Before there is anymore trouble, I hope that the princess will return, and thus avoid a scolding by the Empress as well.”
Princess Jingning was shocked, and began to tremble, taking quite a while before managing to say, “How did you know the excuse I used was to visit the heavenly altars?”
“Probably because I, like the Princess, have heard the same story before…” Mei Changsu smiled faintly, continuing, “This most likely is not the first time the princess is visiting the heavenly altar, and I am quite sure that you do not wish that it is the last, either. Xiao Jingrui is very smart, if I tell him the old story once, he will immediately understand everything…Would the princess like me to tell him the story?”
Princess Jingning stared at his relaxed smile, and suddenly felt rather panicked.
“I’m guessing that the Princess went to the tea house to meet someone special?” Mei Changsu ignored the fact that the princess was now looking very pale, and continued, “The reason you suddenly used such a loud voice, was to tell a certain someone, that Jingrui was not trying to harass you, and to tell him that there was no need to save you, correct? If you could manage to get us to leave, and leave you there alone, that would have been a success for you…”
Princess Jingning took a deep breath, her fists clenched tight, with the color continuing to drain from her face.
About a year ago, Xiao Jingning met an older palace servant, and coincidentally heard him telling a story about a princess from the previous dynasty. It was said that the princess fell in love with a palace guard, but the Emperor refused to allow them to marry. The guard built a secret passageway in the heavenly altar that led to a secluded place in the city. When the princess left the palace, she said she suddenly had a headache as they passed the heavenly altar. She said that the heavenly spirits told her that she must immediately pray for two hours alone in the altar and perform atonement rituals, in order to appease the gods. The servants accompanying her did not dare to neglect such a ritual, and immediately set up a strictly guarded, restricted area with the heavenly altar in the middle. As soon as the princess entered the altar, she took the opportunity to escape from the secret passageway and ran away with the palace guard off to a faraway place. Xiao Jingning did not think much of this story at first, but when she passed the heavenly altar one day, she suddenly had a wild idea, and discovered that the secret passageway did indeed exist. For the first time, she was free from the guards and the weight of the rules and customs that she always had to follow. It was also at that time that she met the young guard who helped her drive away a harasser. The two of them understood that there was great status disparity between them, and though they were hopeless about the possibility of being together, they still could not control their love for one another. In order to come out to meet with him, Xiao Jingning, with the help of her most trusted maid, faked a serious illness, and said that she dreamed of a god who warned her that in order for the gods to forgive her sins, she must pray at the heavenly altar in isolation for four hours every time she left the palace. The Emperor and Empress saw that their beloved daughter’s sickness was quite odd, and her recovery was odd as well, but would rather believe her than not. As a princess, she did not have many opportunities to leave the palace in the first place. However, with this new excuse, every time she left the palace, she was able to successfully stop her carriage at the heavenly altar and disappear for four hours under the cover of her maid. This time, it went just as smoothly as before, and she sent her most trusted maid to inform her lover to meet in their same old place. After leaving the Marquis of Ning’s palace with the excuse of praying at the altar, she sneaked out through the secret passage. She never would have thought that she would run into Xiao Jingrui just as she entered the teahouse. In a panic, she had to quickly come up with an act to notify her lover of her situation, in fear that he would be discovered. She originally thought that everything was going well, and that as long as she could make Xiao Jingrui mad, he would leave, then she could easily get rid of Yan Yujin and return to meeting with her lover. Never could she have foreseen that this seemingly ordinary young man had easily seen through all her secrets, and in a way such that she would never figure out how he had known.
“Princess, have you thought it through?” Mei Changsu softly asked, “The Princess’ private affairs cannot be controlled by me, and I would not expose them to anyone else either. I only hope that the princess will return, and not cause any unnecessary trouble.”
Princess Jingning’s heartbeat began to speed up, and she was nervously biting on her lower lip, which was slowly beginning to turn purple. After pondering for a moment, she whispered, “You really won’t tell anyone?”
Mei Changsu comforted her, saying, “The reputation of a princess, how would I dare to ruin it? If it weren’t for the princess causing a commotion and upsetting Noble Xiao, I would not interfere. After this, when the princess sees me, just pretend we are not acquainted, and I will never speak of it again.”
Princess Jingning suddenly had a cold look in her eyes, saying, “If you don’t have any conditions, then I feel as if I cannot believe you.”
Mei Changsu raised his eyebrows slightly, thought for a moment, and laughed, “If the princess won’t believe me, then I can offer you one condition. In the future, regardless of what it is, if you are there to hear me say something, you must agree and concur with what I say. “
“That is it.”
“Hmph,” Xiao Jingning said proudly, “You are just a civilian, how many occasions can there be with you and I together? Isn’t this a pointless condition?”
“You may be right,” Mei Changsu said, “But it is up to me to decide the conditions, the princess just needs to agree upon it.”
Princess Jingning pulled her lips together tightly, and almost seemed to squeeze the words out from the cracks between her teeth, “Fine, I agree.”
“Princess, you need not be so irritated,” Mei Changsu said with a hint of sympathy in his eyes, “You are the proud, royal daughter, yet your marriage is not up to yourself, which is what you resent the most. The conditions I have brought up are really nothing; whether the princess follows them or not in the future, I will keep my promise to you, and never do anything that could harm him. But for the safety of him and the princess, I hope that you will listen to my advice, and not meet again. It will only cause more pain for both of you.”
Jingning’s eyelashes quivered, and his words had brought her close to tears. The one she loved was too lowly in status, and she was to spend the rest of her life in despair. Even if she were to beg her Mother Empress, she was afraid that it would only result in a fatal disaster for him. The words of the young man standing in front of her sounded so hopeless, yet it was the indisputable truth.
Yan Yujin and Xiao Jingrui were looking on from a distance, and although they could not hear what they were saying, they saw the change in Princess Jingning’s expression, and her look of obvious distress startled them, rushing over to ask, “What happened?”
“I have told you before, I am very good at talking sense into people,” Mei Changsu chuckled, “I have been telling the Princess about filial piety…Look how touched she is by my words….”
“You are speaking nonsense again,” Yan Yujin raised his eyebrows, questioning, “How could that be possible?”
“It is up to you if you do not believe me.” Mei Changsu leaned over slightly, gently looking at Princess Jingning, and softly said, “I hope the princess will carefully think about what I have just said. Now, if you return quickly, rest assured, Jingrui and Yujin will not follow you. Be careful on the way back.”
“What?” Xiao Jingrui exclaimed, surprised, “How could we let her go back alone?”
“The princess has promised me that she will return, thus she will return for sure. If you accompany her, it will seem as if you do not trust her and are escorting her back. If I were the princess, I would not be happy to be treated in such a way. This time, could we listen to your Brother Su once? Let us part with the princess at the alley entrance up ahead.”
Princess Jingning had just been contemplating how to get rid of Noble Xiao and Yan, and return through the secret passageway in the temple, because even if Mei Changsu didn’t bring it up, she would be bound to get caught. Thus, hearing Mei Changsu speak so tactfully to help her out of the situation, she was incredibly grateful, and said, “Yes, I will return immediately,
“What?” Yan Yujin had an expression of extreme disbelief on his face, “You were really speaking to her about filial piety?”
“Is there really a need to be so surprised?” Mei Changsu glanced over at him and said, “From the beginning of time and philosophy, the most touching thing has been filial piety. I will tell you about this another day, for now, let us part ways and return to our respective destinations.”
Xiao Jingrui looked at Princess Jingning and furrowed his eyebrows. Mei Changsu knew that although he was unhappy with Princess Jingning’s words and actions, as her cousin, he still cared for her and was worried about her safety. Mei Changsu pulled on Jingrui’s arm and leaned forward, whispering, “Do not worry, I will have Fei Liu follow her.”
After hearing this, Xiao Jingrui felt rather relieved and no longer expressed dissent. Following Mei Changsu’s suggestion, the four of them parted at the alley entrance, and the princess disappeared into the crowd of people. Yan Yujin returned to his prefecture, and Xiao Jingrui called for a carriage, accompanying his Brother Su back to the Marquis of Ning’s Prefecture.
The carriage had just been set down outside the prefecture when a waiting servant rushed inside to report their return. Xie Bi hurried out to greet them and loudly cried, “Why did you come back so late? There is someone waiting to meet you, they have been waiting for a long time!”