Flames licked the burnt coals as snowflakes continued to fall outside the Su Mansion. The sound of footsteps pacing back and forth resonated throughout the room. Tension surrounded the general and the tactician as the two remained silent.
“What on earth was Prince Jing thinking? How could he be so blind?!” Meng Zhi finally exclaimed.
Mei Changsu just quietly rubbed his cold hands near the fire.
The footsteps stopped, and a worried gaze was directed toward him.
“Brother Meng,” Mei Changsu said, weakly but sternly.
Unsatisfied, Meng Zhi quickly sat down near him and asked, “How can you not feel the least bit upset? This whole situation… If you told him that you’re Lin Shu, he wouldn’t misunderstand you, he wouldn’t—”
“If I told him that I’m Lin Shu, Jingyan wouldn’t misunderstand me and wouldn’t be angry at me. How could Lin Shu ever let Consort Jing suffer and use her?” Mei Changsu turned to meet his eyes and added, “But what about afterwards?”
Meng Zhi furrowed his brow.
“Brother Meng, how many times have I explained this to you? Jingyan cannot find out that Lin Shu is still alive. At least, not right now.”
“Xiaoshu…” the general uttered. “But this isn’t fair for you at all!”
Mei Changsu directed his attention toward the stove and grasped the pair of heavy iron tongs beside it. “When has the world ever been fair?” he asked as he slowly stirred the hot coals.
Meng Zhi waited with his gaze unmoved.
“I know that you’re worried about Jingyan and me, but you know what the current situation is like. I cannot reveal who I am before my goal is achieved. If my true identity is revealed, do you think Jingyan would still wholeheartedly listen to me?”
Using the tongs, Mei Changsu picked up a burning coal and continued, “To him, I’m just a tactician, a calculating and scheming tactician who works only for his benefit, a tactician who has the power to turn almost every single person around him, including myself, into a pawn.”
Meng Zhi winced as the coal was dropped back into the stove, sending a loud crackle around the room.
“If my true identity is revealed, his strong and firm heart will grow soft.” Mei Changsu looked back at him and said, “Do you think Jingyan would then allow this tactician of his to get hurt, even for his own benefit?”
“I… I didn’t think about all of that,” Meng Zhi replied, his voice wavering. “But you and Prince Jing were the best of friends, the best of brothers, the best… Do you really not feel upset over how he thinks of you?”
The tactician took a deep breath and glanced at the snow falling outside.
“Before I arrived in Jinling, I knew that Jingyan and I would never be able to be the same again. Even at Meiling, I already knew that everything had changed. Despite this, I’m still waiting for the day that I can become Lin Shu again.”
Meng Zhi thought he saw a small smile on him, but it quickly disappeared. The tactician turned to look at him with a blank expression, yet the general sensed a sliver of sorrow in his eyes.
“But that Lin Shu will never be the Lin Shu from twelve years ago. If the Lin Shu from twelve years ago saw how I am today, he would only feel disappointment.”
“Xiaoshu…” Meng Zhi uttered, his voice almost pleading.
“Brother Meng, you should go back now. I need to get everything prepared to rescue Wei Zheng.”
Filled with concern, Meng Zhi examined Mei Changsu. He paused and waited for more from the man seated before him, but there was only silence.
“Fine. I’ll let you get on with the preparations. If you need anything, just get Fei Liu to contact me.”
The general rose and helped the tactician to his feet. Mei Changsu glanced at Meng Zhi, who was still holding onto his arm.
Releasing his grip, he said, “Xiaoshu, you need some rest. Don’t overwork yourself.”
“I won’t. Even if I wanted to, do you think Dr. Yan would allow me to?” Mei Changsu replied with a large and bright grin, almost as if the past conversation hadn’t occurred.
Meng Zhi let out a brief smile and turned to leave as tears began to build up in his eyes.
Meng Zhi turned toward the voice and saw a young man jump off his horse. He quickly cleared his throat and wiped his eyes as the young man approached him. The general then greeted him and said, “Prince Mu, what a coincidence! What brings you to the Su Mansion today?”
Mu Qing smiled and replied, “Nothing really. I’ve just been feeling really bored with my studies lately, so I thought of coming to see Mr. Su today. Maybe spar with Fei Liu and also get a few questions answered.”
The general lowered his tone and said, “I’m afraid you won’t be able to see him today.”
“What? What happened?” Prince Mu exclaimed. Worried, he grabbed General Meng’s arm and asked, “But didn’t you just see him? Why can’t I go see him?”
“I did just see him, but Mr. Su isn’t feeling well today. He needs—”
“Mr. Su is ill?! Is it serious? If Mr. Su is ill, that’s even more of a reason for me to see him!”
Mu Qing hurriedly turned to the entrance of the Su Mansion. But before he could move forward, he felt someone pull him back.
“General Meng, let go of me!”
“Prince Mu, Mr. Su is ill, so he needs some rest. Let’s not bother him.”
Mu Qing grasped Meng Zhi’s hand, trying to pry it off his arm, but the general’s grip remained firm. The two exchanged glances for a moment, both not wanting to back down. In the end, the young man let go and Meng Zhi, in turn, did the same.
“But my questions for him…” Mu Qing murmured.
“I’m not a scholar like Mr. Su, so I don’t know how much I can help you. But I can try my best,” Meng Zhi commented with a chuckle.
“Hmm…” Mu Qing uttered, contemplating his offer. “Are you close to Mr. Su?”
“Am I close to Mr. Su?” Meng Zhi repeated, seemingly baffled by Prince Mu’s question. “I… I guess so. I think we’re pretty good friends.”
A bright smile appeared on the little prince’s face and he said, “I think you can help me then!”
“I will try my best.”
“Let’s go to my home. We can talk and drink some tea.”
Meng Zhi watched as Mu Qing hopped onto his horse and began to head home. He sat on his own horse and guided his horse to a walk. He then glanced at the entrance of the Su Mansion and muttered under his breath, “Xiaoshu, you must get better.”
“General Meng! Hurry up!” cried Prince Mu.
Meng Zhi let out a sigh.
“I don’t know how long I can help this little prince with his studies.”
Prince Mu observed General Meng as he drank his tea. Feeling a bit uncomfortable, Meng Zhi placed his cup down and smiled nervously.
“General Meng, you’re close to Mr. Su, right?” Mu Qing asked, breaking the awkward silence.
“Yes, I think we can be considered as good friends.”
“Then… Do you think my sister and Mr. Su are close?”
“Huh?” Meng Zhi uttered, confused.
“Do you think my sister and Mr. Su are close?”
“Uh… I don’t know…”
Unconvinced, Mu Qing scooched himself closer to Meng Zhi and said, “If you’re good friends with Mr. Su, you should at least know something.”
“Um…” The general thought for a moment, as if he was searching for the right words to say. “The Princess and Mr. Su have met several times. Despite their differences in status, they seem to always be able to find something to talk about. I think they can be considered good friends.”
“Is that so?” Prince Mu said, carefully considering about General Meng’s response.
Meng Zhi smiled nervously once again and picked up his cup to take another sip.
Mu Qing then asked, “Then… Do you think they’re compatible?”
“Uh, I’m not sure. Princess Nihuang is a great heroine, both beautiful and strong. As for Mr. Su, he is smart, calculating, yet modest.”
Meng Zhi took a deep breath as he put the cup down and continued, “But… Although they are both at the top of the ladder, they seem to be complete opposites. A warrior woman and a weak scholar…”
“I know that, but it’s been so long since my sister has ever taken notice of someone.”
Mu Qing sighed as he felt the weight of old memories pulling him down.
“I was really young when Lin Shu-gege left Jinling. I can barely recall what he looked like. I just remember that my sister seemed to really like him. Even after that incident... She always acted like she was fine, but I could tell that she had never forgotten about him.”
Meng Zhi made a fist as sorrow crept upon him again. He looked at Prince Mu whose eyes began to grow teary.
“Up until meeting Mr. Su, I hadn’t seen her truly smile. With Mr. Su, she seems to have something to smile about. She seems… sincerely happy. I want her to be with someone who can take care of her and make her happy.”
Mu Qing turned his head away to avoid Meng Zhi from seeing his emotions take over him. He bit his lip as he tried to hold back his tears.
“I know how important Lin Shu-gege was to her, but I just want her to be happy. Mr. Su seems to be the one who can make her forget about the past, make her forget about Lin Shu-gege.”
The two sat in silence as the wind whistled around them. Mu Qing looked back at Meng Zhi, and their gazes met. The little prince saw something in the general’s eyes. He saw the same sadness that he was feeling in them. He saw empathy, not sympathy.
With a small smile, Meng Zhi said, “If they are fated to be, they will be together.”
“You’re right,” Mu Qing said and took a deep breath. “It’s up to fate… It’s all up to fate…”