I actually had pretty much this entire chapter other than the last few paragraphs translated for a long time, but then real life kicked in and I got crazy busy. I still can’t believe that it has already been three months since the last chapter I posted, since I was originally planning for a chapter a week. Hopefully I will get to more during winter break. If you haven’t read my translating disclaimer, it is at the beginning of Chapter 10 🙂 Please feel free to leave comments!
Chapter 112: A Cloud of Suspicion
After all matters were discussed, Prince Jing stood up to signal the conclusion of the meeting. With Prince Jing’s back to him, Mei Changsu took this opportunity to shoot a glance at Meng Zhi and signal to him. The General Commander was still deep in thought, processing the various analyses that Mei Changsu had just talked through, so he did not immediately understand what Mei Changsu was hinting about. It was not until Mei Changsu secretly mouthed some words to him that he suddenly remembered what he was instructed to do earlier.
“Oh yes, your highness,” Meng Zhi quickly said as Prince Jing was just about to open the door, “The last time the book that you took, ‘Soaring over the Earth: A Chronicle**, ’have you happened to finish reading it? I have flipped through the book a few times and found it quite interesting, so I want to read it to gain some more insight. I am wondering if your highness can lend it to me for a couple of days?”
“Why do you ask me? The owner of the book is Su-xiansheng, if you would like to borrow this book, shouldn’t you ask him?” Prince Jing raised his eyebrows, saying, “As long as Su-xiansheng agrees, then I will give it to you.”
Mei Changsu smiled, responding, “It is just a book, whoever likes it can take it to read it. If General Commander Meng did not bring it up, I would’ve forgotten about it.”
“But, respected General Meng will have to wait a couple of days,” Prince Jing said smiling, “The book is with my mother–when I go in to pay my respects to her** in a few days, I will bring it to you.”
Mei Changsu jumped a little, and was quite startled, asking, “How… Why is it with Consort Jing?”
“Although my mother is naturally quiet, she has traveled to many places prior to entering the palace. Now that she is in the palace and cannot leave, she is often bored and thus enjoys reading works about travel. Su-xiansheng’s book is such a rare and elaborate piece of writing, so when I brought it up, my mother was very interested and wanted to read it. Now that I think about it, she has been reading the book for around half a month now, and must be almost finished with it. Since General Meng would like to read it, next time I will remember to get it from her.
Meng Zhi was not the one who wanted to read the book, rather, it was Mei Changsu who asked Meng Zhi to request the return of the book. Hearing the words of Prince Jing and seeing the expression on Mei Changsu’s face, he pretended to act casually, but could not help but worry. He was not quite sure exactly what should be said, and only responded, “Oh,” along with, “Thank you,” before leaving from the secret passageway with Prince Jing.
When Meng Zhi secretly entered Prince Jing’s prefecture, it was already dark out, so now it was late into the night. After saying goodnight, Meng Zhi was preparing to leave as quietly as he had entered, but just as he began to walk away, Prince Jing called out, “Wait a moment.” He stopped in his footsteps and quickly turned around.
However, after Prince Jing stopped Meng Zhi, he did not speak for quite some time. After a long pause, he slowly asked, “General Meng, when you asked for the book, Soaring over the Earth: A Chronicle, did you really want to read it, or did someone else ask you to ask for it?”
Meng Zhi was caught off guard by this sudden and unexpected question, and could not help but feel startled. Fortunately, the words he followed up with matched the look of surprise on his face, saying, “Why would your highness think that? Of course I want to read it! Who would your highness think would ask me to ask for this book? Unless other than us, there is someone else who knows your highness borrowed this book from Su-xiansheng?”
Although the reasoning for his surprise was different from the one he voiced, but the look of surprise on his face was genuine, and thus Prince Jing did not question it to be fake. He couldn’t help but feel a little awkward, and smiled, explaining, “It’s just that I didn’t know General Meng enjoyed reading as well, so I just thought to ask. No need to think much of my question.”
Meng Zhi laughed as well and said, “I am a martial artist who has never had anything to do with books. If it weren’t for me flipping through a few pages and finding it quite interesting, I would not want to ask to read it. No wonder your highness finds it a little unexpected…”
“It was I who was discourteous.” Prince Jing nodded his head slightly in apology and continued, “ I should not have asked it in such a manner. General Meng need not think much of it and…Need not tell Su-xiangsheng about this…”
“Uh…” Meng Zhi could not understand what he meant, and was afraid that by asking more questions, he would say something wrong and be blamed by xiao-Shu later on. He laughed and quickly said goodbye, leaving so fast it seemed he was flying.
Once Meng Zhi had left, for a while, Prince Jing sat under the light doing nothing. He recently felt as if he couldn’t focus completely, and instead went outside to handle some of the affairs for the military and capital patrol guards. Afterwards, he practiced his swordsmanship in the garden for an hour, and it wasn’t until he felt tired that he returned to his room to rest.
The next morning, he entered the palace to attend the imperial court, but the administrative court issued a decree saying that the court was still not called for by the emperor today. Prince Jing then entered the inner palace from the Zhuque Gate to visit his mother. He counted that it had been about seven days since he last saw Consort Jing. The last few times, he had just arrived outside her palace before being notified that the Emperor was inside, and could only bow outside her palace, not daring to disturb them. Hearing that the Emperor had not called for the court again today, Prince Jing was prepared that he may not be able to see her again. However, as soon as he arrived outside the Zhiluo Palace, he was quickly welcomed inside by the servants.
Consort Jing greeted her son in the day-to-day living room, the Xinuan Hall*, and was wearing light colors and makeup as usual. She smiled gently as she asked to make sure that he was healthy and doing well, then called for the servants to bring the tea and pastries she had made herself. She contentedly watched as her son ate.
“How come Father Emperor is not here today?” Prince Jing asked casually as he ate a black sesame cake.
“I heard… Xia Jiang came into the palace today, to discuss some matters with his majesty.” Consort Jing answered the question simply, then passed another bowl of chestnut pudding to him, saying, “Try this, this is freshly made.”
“Every time I come, you act as if I have no food to eat outside,” Prince Jing joked, continuing, “Ever since I could come to visit mother whenever I would like, I have gotten a whole size larger.”
“How are you fat?” Consort Jing gently said, “As a mother, I am only afraid you are not eating enough.”
The chestnut pudding was in a very small bowl, and Prince Jing finished it with two sips. He wiped his mouth with a napkin and said, “Mother, last time the book that I brought, Soaring over the Earth: A Chronicle, have you finished it?”
“I have finished reading it. Are you going to take it back?”
“Another friend would also like to read it.”
Consort Jing stood up, and personally went to the shelf to bring it over. Her gaze lingered on the cover for a moment before handing it over to her son.
“Mother… Do you really like this book?”
“Yes…” Consort Jing smiled faintly, and lamentingly continued, “It reminds me of the past, and it brings up some nostalgic feelings… Oh yes, the margin notes in this book were written by the Su-xiansheng you speak of often?
“Reading the notes, it seems that the writer should be a bright and gallant young man. Why is it that hearing from you, it seems that this Su-xiansheng is calculating and manipulative?”
“Su-xiansheng is a multifaceted person. Sometimes he is so manipulating that it chills my heart, yet other times I feel he is very profound.” Prince Jing raised his eyebrows, asking, “Why? Mother, you find him very interesting?”
“You have great ambitions, and want to redress the injustice of your older brother. You want to support the citizens and rectify the imperial court system, and I am so proud of you for that. Unfortunately, I am weak, and cannot be much help to you. I only hope that there is someone loyal and capable by your side to assist you to succeed.” Consort Jing’s eyes sparkled like reflections in the water, and gently said, “I think this Su-xiansheng is very good, he gave up the easy path of supporting the Crown Prince and Prince Yu, and is fully dedicated to you. You can see his sincerity. You have always been impartial, and I have confidence in you–so normally there wouldn’t be anything more that I need to remind you of. I just really feel that such talent like Su-xiansheng is so rare to come by, and you should treat him with more respect than others. No matter what happens in the future, never forget that he is the one who has been helping you since the very beginning.”
Prince Jing listened quietly, then was silent for a moment before making eye contact with his mother, and slowly said, “You have said this to me before…”
“Ah?” Consort Jing was quite surprised, and said, “What?”
“Mother, not long after you read this book, you specifically asked me who wrote the margin notes in the book. After that, you reminded me to be respectful and kind to Su-xiansheng, and to rely on and trust him… How come you thought of bringing this up again? Unless you are afraid that I will forget?”
“Oh, really…” Consort Jing laughed to herself, and gently wiped her mouth with a handkerchief, saying, “When a person is becoming old, they become more and more forgetful. Things that I have already said before, I repeat them multiple times. It seems, that I really am getting old…”
Prince Jing hurried to stand up and bowed, saying, “Mother, you are still thriving and prosperous, why would you say such a thing? It is all because I spoke wrongly, please forgive me.”
“Alright,” Consort Jing smiled at him with a little laugh, “I am your mother, what is there to look so afraid about? You have already grown up and are both ambitious and responsible. I am very proud. No matter what happens outside, as long as you take care of yourself and stay safe, that is enough for me.”
“Yes.” Prince Jing was just about to comfort her some more, when a servant appeared outside the entrance, and called out: “I have something to report to Consort Jing.”
“Come in to speak.”
The servant walked in with her eyes down, and knelt down, reporting, “The Wuying Hall just sent word that his majesty is coming this way, please prepare to welcome him.”
“Understood, you may leave now.” Consort Jing took her time standing up, and went to bring two pastry boxes to give to Prince Jing. She said to him, “I prepared these herbal pastries, one box is for you, and the other is for Su-xiansheng. It represents my gratitude to him for his hard work assisting my son.”
Prince Jing pursed his lips and stacked the two boxes on top of one another, holding them both in one hand as he used the other to grab the book. With everything in his arms, he bowed to Consort Jing, and slowly walked away. In order to avoid running into his majesty, he purposely used the side door and walked all the way around the Huaisu Pavilion, going in the opposite direction of the Zhuque Gate before finally arriving at his carriage, which had been long awaiting him.
As soon as he stepped into his carriage, Prince Jing set the two boxes aside, and pulled out Soaring over the Earth: A Chronicle, he flipped through it multiple times, focusing especially on Mei Changsu’s margin notes. He repeatedly looked over every word and sentence written by Mei Changsu, reading it much more detailed than usual. Yet no matter how he read it, he could not find any deeper meaning, and in the end, could only helplessly throw the book aside.
Exactly what was so strange about this book? In the beginning, when he inadvertently asked to borrow this book from Mei Changsu, there was a sudden waiver in Mei Changsu’s expression. It was as if a sliver of a crack had appeared in a thousand year ice sheet, or the flash of a secret door seen at the end of a long and dark tunnel. Even though it disappeared without a trace within an instance, Xiao Jingyan immediately knew that there must be something in this book.
But what could it be? What could allow Mei Changsu, who would not even change expression if the Tai Mountains collapsed into an avalanche in front of him, have such a waiver in expression? What could allow the General Meng Zhi, who had never had an interest in reading, come to ask for this book? Most importantly, what could allow his mother, who has indifferently lived in the depths of the inner palace for more than ten years, repetitively ask and care about an advisor that she has never even seen before?
Prince Jing knew, that if even his dearest mother deliberately avoided the topic, then it was impossible for him to ask anyone else about his suspicions. Even if he did ask, it was likely that he would not receive the truth he was looking for. If he wanted to have his confusions clarified, he would have to think for himself.
Xiao Jingyan picked up the book that he had thrown aside, and flipped through it carefully again. Even after he carefully tried reversing and reassembling the characters and sentences in the footnotes written by Mei Changsu, he still did not discover anything special.
When the carriage entered the main entrance of Prince Jing’s Prefecture, Xiao Jingyan sighed hopelessly and closed the book, jumping off the carriage.
As a servant came to help him untie his cape, he passed the book to him and ordered, “Send a person to bring this to General Commander Meng’s Prefecture, and ask him to accept it.”
Prince Jing took a few steps towards the study, then suddenly remembering stopped in his footsteps and said, “There are two pastry boxes in the carriage, bring them both to my room.”
“Ask for General Lie, General Ji, Advisor Liu, and Inspector Wei to come to the study.”
Prince Jing looked up at the sky, took a deep breath, and pushed all his confusions to the back of his head. Regaining his spirits, he confidently walked towards his study.
Right then, there was a sudden burst of noise outside the door, and a soldier ran in, breathlessly reporting, “His majesty’s royal decree has arrived! Your highness, please go to accept the decree…” As he finished saying this, the soldier cleared his throat, and excitedly added, “The one here to deliver the decree, is the Head Court Eunuch of the Imperial Ceremony Court.”
Prince Jing understood immediately, and could not help but feel a rush of joy. However, he remained calm and composed, and only showed a slight smile. He had not yet changed out of his court attire so there was no need for further delay, and thus quickly went outside.
The one delivering the royal decree was indeed the Head Court Eunuch of the Imperial Ceremony Court, who was wearing his official uniform and a bright smile on his face. After they exchanged greetings, Prince Jing walked inside with him. The governor of the house had already excitedly prepared the altar room, and after entering, the Head Court Eunuch opened up the yellow, silk imperial decree and read aloud, “In the name of the heavens, the Emperor royally declares: the seventh royal prince, Xiao Jingyan, is honest, devoted, and filial. He is both virtuous and righteous, loyal and brave, and has had great achievements. Because of this, he is bestowed the title of a five-pearl qin*** prince. Please accept this decree and honor!”
*西暖阁–Xinuan Hall or West Warm Hall. I’ve seen the translation “West Warm Hall” used, but personally feel that it is too literal of a translation since “Nuan” means warmth and genial rather than only warm. This is the “living room” like area of Consort Jing’s palace.
**Used Lang Ya Scribe’s version of the translation for 翔地记 for the sake of consistency for readers (I know most readers come from reading her translations first). Hope our dear friend does not mind, since I was unable to contact her.
***Qin Prince is a title and way of ranking the prince’s level. In NiF, there is only mention of the Jun Prince title and the Qin Prince title, with Prince Jing previously being a lower ranking Jun Prince.
Every time I read this chapter, I can’t help but think: poor baby Jingyan, he is really just trying his best, but he also just really doesn’t get it. Evidently, he isn’t to blame–MCS + his mother are both just too smart.
Meng Zhi is also just a confused boy trying his best to survive in this difficult world 😂