As Marquis Xie, the chief of the kingdom’s military force and the top ally of the crown prince, was prosecuted and eventually sent to a labour camp in remote Guizhou, Prince Jing was appointed as the new head of the capital defence force by the Emperor.
An ancient Chinese bar
While Prince Jing – no one knew he had any association with Mei Changsu – had obtained the capital’s military control with Mei Changsu’s secret help, Prince Yu – everybody knew he was assistant by Mei Changsu – had suffered a massive setback due to Mei Changsu’s underhanded sabotage.
Lady Qin, Prince Yu’s political consultant and the boss of Red Sleeve Seduction, lost a large number of her agents working in the royal palace. Those spy maidens were either arrested or deserted their position.
Lady Qin decided to fight back. Once she visited a bar in the CBD area …..
The owner of the bar was Sijie, Lady Qin’s fellow disciple to a princess of the doomed Hua Kingdom.
At one point in history, the tiny Hua Kingdom couldn’t stand on its own feet and hence voluntarily merged with Liang.
After a while, however, Hua’s monarch changed his mind and wanted independence again.
Of course, for Liang, that was non-negotiable.
Failing to gain consent for independence, the former royal family led its ethnic Hua followers to flee to Dayu, a militarily powerful kingdom of nomadic tribes in the north.
With Hua people showing the way, Dayu launched a series of powerful military assaults against Liang’s kingdom.
Marshal Lin Xie, his son Young Marshal Lin Shu, royal investigator Lady Xia’s husband and 70,000 Red Flame Army warriors marched to the northern board to repel the Dayu force.
That was 15 years ago.
The war lasted for two years. Dayu troops retreated and Hua royal family members were either killed or captured and sent back to the capital.
During her years living as a slave labourer in Liang Palace, Hua Princess Xuanji was consumed by hatred. She understood it was unrealistic to restore Hua’s kingdom, but she determined to involve Liang and Hua in one common ruin.
She successfully recruited, trained and established an all-women spy network with the escort agency Red Sleeve Seduction as the headquarter.
In the palace, once peace graced the kingdom again, the emperor began to ponder on another sort of threats. He was awed by Red Flame Army’s military prowess, and when he reflected on how often Prince Qi (the original crown prince) and Marshal Lin Xie kept supporting each other’s views at court meetings, his paranoia over the possibility of a coup grew out of control.
Thus Xia Jiang, the chief of the Royal Discipline Committee, approached the emperor with a letter from Lady Xia’s husband. The letter claimed Red Flame Army had made a secret deal with Dayu for a coup to allow Prince Qi to ascend the throne immediately.
The letter was of course fake, produced by a school teacher under Marquis Xie’s request.
But that was enough for the emperor to jump at the opportunity and issue a decree to massacre all 70,000 Red Army troops before they returned to the capital.
Now sitting in her serene and spacious courtyard, Sijie recounted the past events and questioned Lady Qin when being urged to re-engage the fighting against Liang, “Princess Xuanji died young, but she had helped to destroy Red Flame Army and avenged Hua royal family, should we just let the matter drop and live our own lives in peace?”
An ancient Chinese teahouse
Lady Qi was gravely unimpressed by Sijie’s indifference towards the former Hua monarch’s aspiration. Unable to persuade Sijie to change her mind, Lady Qin pled her to carry out one more assignment. “I’m in a desperate situation, I don’t know what to do if you refuse to help me. After this, I promise, I’ll never bother you again.”
Sijie finally agreed to help. “What do you want me to do then?”
Lady Qin took her to a teahouse opposite the back door of Mei Changsu’s residence.
“I want you to seduce a man.”
“Nope. He’s a man incorruptible by money, fame or women. I want you to seduce the guy who delivers veggies to his kitchen each day.”
Sijie noticed a labouring guy directing a horse-drawn cart loaded with boxes towards the back entrance to Mei Changsu’s residence.
“For twice, we captured the abscond palace maidan agents, but twice, they escaped again with the help of this guy. I don’t think they were coincidence.”
So one day Sijie fell on the street where Mei Changsu’s veggie delivery guy passed every day, and told people she, a poor widow, came to visit her aunt.
Sijie’s “aunt” lived next door to the veggie delivery guy. The onlookers all urged the guy to walk the woman to her aunt’s home.
Four essentials in a classic Chinese studio: paper, brush pens, ink pan and ink stick (to make ink)
Extra items in a classic Chinese studio could include an incense burner, a paper holder and candles.
After successfully designing, launching, executing and accomplishing a long list of political dramas against the corrupt royal elites, high officials and military generals associated either with the crown prince or Prince Yu, Mei Changsu did not realise this time he would become the target of an intricately crafted plot.
At his studio area in his open-plan residence, he leisurely indulged himself in the pleasure of reading and adding comments on a travel notebook Details of a Land.
An ancient Chinese emperor’s lesser wife’s bedroom
The travel notebook in which he added comments was read by Prince Jing’s mother, the adopted sister of Marshal Lin Xie.
In Chinese tradition, a child should never speak out or spell out his/her parent’s given name, and a woman’s maiden name was regarded as a secret after she got married.
It happened there was a name of a location in the book that was exactly the same as the maiden name of Marshal Lin Xie’s wife, so each time when Mei Changsu referred to this place in his comments he would write the two characters with reduced strokes.
Prince Jing’s mother quickly figured out the true identity of his son’s political consultant — it was Marshal Lin Xie’s son, the boy whom she loved like her own child and missed terribly for 13 years.
However, she said nothing to the prince apart from urging him to look after his consultant and follow his advance. If Mei Changsu decided to conceal his true identity before her son, he must have a good reason, she believed.
With his mother’s encouragement, Prince Jing became a frequent visitor to Mei Changsu’s residence via an underground passageway.
Once again, the two men spent most evenings together, reading books, reviewing reports, drafting proposals, formulating policies, and sometimes arguing over an issue, like what they did 13 years ago. Yet Prince Jing absolutely had no idea he was doing all this with his old friend.
An ancient Chinese mansion with multiple courtyards
Before long, Prince Jing’s mansion became the real headquarter managing the kingdom’s day-to-day functions.
For his outstanding work performance, the emperor promoted Prince Jing to a Lordship, a status almost as senior as Prince Yu.
An ancient Chinese prince’s home office
One year after securing Mei Changsu’s service, Prince Yu lost all his allies in the cabinet and in the army, and observed a powerful new rival – Prince Jing – to emerge and to go from strength to strength; and all these happened with his own assistance by following Mei Changsu’s advice.
On top of these, a large portion of Lady Qin’s Red Sleeve Seduction was exposed and destroyed. According to Sijie’s intelligence, the mysterious force that trashed the spy network was Mei Changsu’s Left Shore Alliance.
Only by then, Prince Yu finally woke up to a cruel reality: for all this time, his most trusted consultant Mei Changsu was not working for him but against him.
A transparent decorative screen that offers a sense of security yet does not block out light from windows
With Lady Qi’s mediation, Prince Yu had a confidential meeting with the chief of the Royal Discipline Committee on a snowing day at his secluded summer retreat.
Xia Jiang told Prince Yu, in order to destroy Prince Jing, they should destroy Prince Jing’s trust in Mei Changsu first.
This wasn’t an auspicious year for the kingdom since the weather was extremely unfavourable, which led to widespread famine. Prince Jing was sent by the emperor to distribute emergency relief to the people affected.
The young prince had no idea when he was away a nasty plot to destroy him was brewing in the capital.
Mei Changsu smelled the danger. Despite being very ill, he made an effort to visit Maquis Yan to secure the political veteran’s support for Prince Jing.
The marquis lingered. “At the moment, the situation is in a mass. His Majesty holds no justice, I see little hope for Prince Jing to outmaneuver Prince Yu, and you want me to risk losing my status and my life to fight a seemingly hopeless battle?”
“Yes, I do,” replied Mei Changsu.
“The empress is my sister, Prince Yu is her adopted son, and you want me to help Prince Jing fight against Prince Yu, do you realise how unreasonable your request is?”
“Yes, I do,” replied Mei Changsu.
“So you do know all these, then why do you still ask me to do so?”
Mei Changsu looked at the marquis steadily. “I just want to know if you are willing to do so?”
The marquis shut his eyes for a moment. When he opened his eyes again, he looked back at Mei Changsu, also steadily. “I’m willing.”
“Thanks,” Mei Changsu said.
“You don’t seem to be surprised by my answer, may I ask why?”
“Because you had hot blood when you were young; I don’t believe it can easily turn cold by now.”
“Yeah …. you may be right, my blood is still hot, but, my heart is icy cold.”
“Precisely because you’re so disappointed with His Majesty, Crown Prince and Prince Yu, I knew you would be willing to help Prince Jing.”
Marquis Yan nodded his understanding, and turned to Yujing. “I don’t know what will be the outcome of my today’s decision, as my son, you could be implicated if things do go sour …”
“Father, since I’m your son, we are united as one. Whatever you decide to do, I’ll do with you.”
Mei Changsu made a vow, “I’ll do all I can to keep you away from the risky situation …”
Marquis Yan cut him short. “Since I’ve given you my word, my personal safety is no longer my concern. However –” he scrutinised Mei Changsu from his top to his toe, “may I ask were you associated with Prince Qi? — Otherwise, I just can’t figure out any other reason for you to help Prince Jing.”
Mei Changsu smiled wryly. “Social status, financial rewards, these all can be the reasons.”
“Fame …. wealth ….” the marquis once again examined Mei Changsu, thoroughly, and shook his head, “I don’t think you would be interested in this petty stuff. You must have some big reasons.”
After the visit, Mei Changsu’s health deteriorated, eventually his doctor had to put him into deep sleep for many days while treating him with acupuncture.
While Prince Jing was away from the capital, Mei Changsu was in deep sleep and the emperor went to the royal cemetery to sweep the tomb of his late grandma, who passed away months ago, Prince Yu took the opportunity to motion the empress to raid the residence of Prince Jing’s mother.
The empress found some medicinal herbs with which Prince Jing’s mother made cakes and soups, and accused the lady of attempting to poison the emperor. Prince Jing’s mother was interrogated and locked up.
Little Newgirl, one of the maidens serving Prince Jing’s mother, miraculously escaped from the palace and reported the incident to General Lie, Prince Jing’s chief assistant.
General Lie immediately sent the maiden and a commander to seek an audience with the emperor, while he himself rushed to Mei Changsu’s residence for advice. But he didn’t get a chance to see the man — a Mei Changsu’s bodyguard informed him his master was asleep and should not be disturbed.
The commander and the Little Newgirl failed to meet the emperor too. A kung fu man blocked their way and claimed he had Mei Changsu’s order to demand them halt their advance.
“Why, Her Ladyship’s life is in danger,” the commander protested.
“No she isn’t, she may just have some bad experiences. The more she suffers, the harder the emperor will punish the empress,” the man stated coldly and pressed hard on the commander’s certain acupoints to leave the man temporarily immobile.
In the meanwhile, Sijie started to formally date Mei Changsu’s veggie delivery guy.
When the two began to discuss their marriage, Prince Yu and Lady Qin kidnapped the man. The veggie delivery guy initially refused to betray Mei Changsu, however, when Lady Qin threatened to kill Sijie, he broke down.
At the same time, along a path in remote woods somewhere in the kingdom, a horse caravan fully loaded with Chinese medicine materials was ambushed and attacked by armed force from the Royal Discipline Committee and the head of the caravan was captured.
An ancient Chinese prison van
The head of the caravan was Wei Zheng, the young chief of a kung fu sect headquartered at Medicine Valley and a man wanted by the Royal Discipline Committee for 13 years.
He was wanted because he was Young Marshal Lin Shu’s most senior assistant in Red Feather Battalion, the vanguard troops of the Red Flame Army, destroyed by the Royal Discipline Committee and Marquis Xie under the emperor’s order.
A market outside the city gate
Since Mei Changsu was in deep sleep, his bodyguards organised a rescue mission without his approval. They summoned all Left Shore Alliance members lurking in the capital to snatch the prisoner when the van approached the city gate.
The operation, however, did not succeed.
The major city gate
Prince Jing eventually accomplished his famine relief task and returned to the capital.
Street inside the city gate
On the surface, everything in the capital looked the same as months ago when Prince Jing left, but when he entered the palace, he realized the world would never be the same again.
From the emperor and Xia Jiang, he was informed that General Wei Zheng, his best friend Lin Shu’s assistant, was alive but captured.
From Little Newgirl, he learned Mei Changsu sent a kung fu man to stop them from reporting to the emperor and left his mother in a dangerous situation for days.
Mei Changsu eventually woke up from days of deep sleep. When he learned Wei Zheng was captured and Prince Jing returned to the capital, he hurried his way to meet the prince through the underground passageway.
He pulled the string to ring the bell, but it took a long while for Prince Jing and his assistant, General Lie, to appear on the other side of the tunnel.
“What’s up?” Prince Jing asked frostily.
Mei Changsu was baffled. “Don’t you have anything to discuss with me?”
Prince Jing rolled his eyes.
“Yes yes, we do,” General Lie replied to his boss. “We want to rescue General Wei Zheng, please help us set up an operational plan.”
Mei Changsu urged Prince Jing, “Please forget about this idea. It’s a trap, and if you step in, we’ll loss everything we’ve achieved so far.”
Prince Jing was very angry. “Are you saying we should just watch Wei Zheng die?”
“As long as you do nothing, he won’t die, because he is a bait. Now you are so close to reaching that position, it’s not worth it to undo all the previous hard work just for a Red Flame Army general.”
Prince Jing exploded. “Not worth it?! When I die and meet Lin Shu, and he asks me why I didn’t save his general, can I reply to him because it is not worth it?’ ”
Mei Changsu was taken aback by the answer. He was both moved and apprehensive.
Poor Prince Jing, still unaware Mei Changsu and Lin Shu were the same person, shouted at the man standing in front of him in a fit of rage, “Apart from calculating the loss and the gain, what else you ever really care about? I know now you are a cold-blooded man without a conscience.” He cut the bell string with General Lie’s sword.
“Your Highness!” Mei Changsu came to his knees. “Please listen to me…
“I won’t bother. From now on, I don’t need you to mind my business.” With that, he left the tunnel and shut the door behind him.
Since the door of the underground passageway to Prince Jing’s estate was blocked, Mei Changsu had to brave the snowstorm travelling through half of the city to reach the front gate of the prince’s mansion.
However, the angry prince initially refused to see him, leaving a gravely ill Mei Changsu to stand on a freezing cold open veranda for hours.
When Prince Jing eventually appeared, he once again told Mei Changsu he needed no his advice because he had already made up his mind.
Mei Changsu compromised, “If you insist on this rescue operation, let me do it, just don’t get yourself involved.”
“No!” the prince’s response was dry and clear.
“What?” Mei Changsu couldn’t believe his ears.
“You’re a scholar with no military experience, you don’t understand the special bond between comrades-in-arms,” the prince sneered.
Mei Changsu didn’t know how to reply but grinned bitterly.
“Watch each other’s back, that’s what we do in army — nothing can stop me from keeping doing it,” having said that prince walked away from the veranda.
“Xiao Jingyan, I demand you to stand and listen!” Mei Changsu barked at the prince.
Prince Jing halted his steps. No one ever called him by his full name except his childhood friends Lin Shu and Princess Nihuang.
“You have a conscience, you have loyalty, but why don’t you have a brain?!” Mei Changsu snarled like a wild beast. “70,000 lives were lost in Plum Hill, how much more innocent blood you want to shed this time?! You tell me, you tell me now!”
Prince Jing burst into tears. “But what should I say when I see Lin Shu one day if I do nothing to save his general?”
Mei Changsu’s face distorted in pain. “Let me do it, please trust me, I will definitely do my best to save Wei Zheng.”
Nirvana in Fire (5): A Plot