CH 11: The Servant-Girl Adept in Martial Arts

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Even though Prince Donghai was not trustworthy at all, Han Ruzi was still very glad to see him.
He smiled and said, “Welcome.
This is the first time you have come visit me.”

With the servant-girl around, Prince Donghai dared not be too insolent, but he could not bring himself to pretend to be a respectful subject.
He grunted in acknowledgement while looking around.
“It is not that I wished to come here.
I was ordered to come here by the Empress Dowager.”

Han Ruzi was puzzled.

Prince Donghai strolled around with his arms behind his back, but was unwilling to go near Han Ruzi.
“That’s right.
First day of your ascension and you already have loyal subjects willing to stand up for you.
But you better not be too smug about it.
Liu Jie has caused you great trouble.”

“I’m not afraid of trouble.
I just hope that Sealbearer Liu is alright.” In Han Ruzi’s heart, eunuch Liu Jie was a truly loyal subject.

“Heh, of course Liu Jie is alright.
With the ruckus he caused, his reputation as a principled and loyal subject has been engraved into hearts and minds.
Who knows how many literati on the outside are writing essays praising him.
But you, you are in trouble.
At first, everyone knew that you are a puppet, hence everyone left things alone.
But Liu Jie has given outsiders a mistaken impression, causing people to think that you have hope.
There will surely be idiots who will fall over one another to petition for the Emperor to reign personally.
With the result that…”

Prince Donghai stole a glance at the servant-girl.
Seeing that she had no intention of leaving, he continued, “But fortunately, the Empress Dowager is wise.
She saw through Liu Jie’s act, and hence she did not punish him, and instead let him retain custody of the Imperial Seal.
After all, this fellow has quite the audacious streak, the Imperial Seal is indeed quite safe in his custody.”

Han Ruzi shook his head.
“You are too suspicious.
By what you are saying, every loyal subject is just pretending?”

“Heh,” Prince Donghai revealed a disdainful expression, as he could not be bothered to argue.  He walked around before coming before Han Ruzi, “Your quarters are not as expansive as mine.”

“Really? I think it is big enough.” This was the first time Han Ruzi was staying in chambers with side rooms on both the left and right — he did not find it small at all.

Prince Donghai was still full of disdain.
He turned and walked towards the door, and spoke to the servant-girl sitting on the stool.

Meng E did not even bat an eyelid.

“She does not need to leave.” Han Ruzi stood up.
He did not need Meng E to stay, but he felt that Prince Donghai was very rude.

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“You are the Emperor, and yet you are speaking up for a servant-girl!” Prince Donghai turned around, shocked.
“Do you not know… where there these people come from?”

“She must stay.” Han Ruzi insisted.

“Do you even look like an Emperor?” Prince Donghai grew bolder as he spoke.
“You saw my uncle today, right? Everyone was courteous to him; the Cui clan has not lost power.
Then look at that Shang-guan Xu.
Just a small matter had him trembling with fear.
Truly, one cannot push mud up a wall.”[1]

Shang-guan Xu was indeed trembling at that time, but Han Ruzi did not think that Prince Donghai’s uncle performed much better.
Cui Hong was always hiding behind someone, not daring to even appear squarely.

“The ascension was like a game.
The game has ended, and wherever power was, power still resides.” Prince Donghai’s voice  grew louder and louder.
He turned around fiercely and faced the servant-girl again.
“Don’t be an eyesore, and piss…”

Prince Donghai did not just move his lips, he also moved his legs.
Even though he was only thirteen, this kick was not light.
If he hit his mark, the servant-girl would surely topple over the stool.

But in the end it was Prince Donghai who fell down.
He screamed and scrambled up.
He was both furious and recalcitrant.
“You dare hit back?!”

Meng E stood up, and lightly hit Prince Donghai’s waist with her palm.
Prince Donghai fell back several steps before being able to stop.
He clutched his stomach and turned around.
Beside himself in shock, he said, “You… you… I know that move!”

Han Ruzi recognized it as well.
In the Ancestral Temple, a servant-girl who looked like a man used this move to get Prince Donghai to sit on a stool.

Meng E was actually a martial artist.
And she was not weak.
Han Ruzi was more shocked than Prince Donghai.

Prince Donghai slowly moved away from the Emperor.
In disbelief, he asked the servant-girl, “How do you know martial arts? Who sent you? Are you an assassin? Um… You don’t have to answer these questions, just be clear on who your target is.”

Prince Donghai did not want to attend to the Emperor, but because of the Empress Dowager’s orders, the eunuchs had forced him to come even though they themselves did not accompany him.
Prince Donghai had his doubts, and when he saw that the servant-girl was a martial artist, his doubts coalesced into suspicions of conspiracy.

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Meng E remained silent.
She sat back on the round stool and stared blankly at her own feet.

The room went quiet for quite a while.
Prince Donghai seemed to be both expectant and frightened.
He did not know why the servant-girl had not struck yet.
When the door knocked suddenly, Prince Donghai leapt up in shock.

Han Ruzi was not bothered.
Things that were meant to be were meant to be.
Rather than anxiously waiting, he would rather have a swift resolution.

Meng E opened the door and five servant-girls and eunuchs entered.
They carried plates and bowls of dishes and candlesticks.
As it turned out, it was time for dinner.
The pallor of dusk shrouded the outside, and the inside of the room was gloomy.
Both Han Ruzi and Prince Donghai were too distracted to have noticed.

Compared to the sumptuous lunch, dinner was much simpler.
Two meat, two vegetables, and a soup, as well as rice and some dimsum.
Han Ruzi was truly hungry.
Once the food was set on the table, he ravenously ate, paying no heed at all to the dignity of the Emperor.

A eunuch set up a small table by the couch and prepared a set of bowls and chopsticks.
He then bowed towards Prince Donghai.

Prince Donghai stood by the door of the western side-room and looked at the dinner from afar.
He shook his head, indicating his refusal to eat.
Even though his stomach was growling in hunger,  he refused to eat because he suspected that the food may be poisoned.

There were not many rules for dinner.
Han Ruzi ate his food and drank his tea, after which an attendant came to clear the table.
Han Ruzi held back a plate of osmanthus cake and said, “Leave this here.
I want to eat this at night.
It has a good taste.”

A servant-girl who was working the dinner service could not hold back her laughter, but she quickly reigned it in.
She packed up the miscellaneous items before quickly withdrawing from the room.

After all the attendants had withdrawn, it was already completely dark outside.
The room was brightly lit by three candles placed around the room.

After some time, Prince Donghai pointed at the Emperor and said, “I understand.
I completely understand now.”

“Understand what?”

“Why did the Empress Dowager force me to be your attendant? This is her ploy!” Prince Donghai no longer cared about the martial artist servant-girl.
Anger had filled his chest, bursting out uncontrollably.
“The Empress Dowager wishes to kill you, and then put the crime of regicide on me, thereby having an excuse to exterminate the Cui clan.
A frameup, this is a frameup!”

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Han Ruzi considered this for a moment.
“What you say seems to make a bit of sense.”

“Only a bit of sense?” Prince Donghai raised his hand and smacked his head before striding towards the Emperor.
“You are about to be killed, do you understand?”

“I do, but what can be done about it?” Han Ruzi looked at Meng E by the door.
He had the sense that the danger would not come from her.

“There are two of us, and she is but one woman.” Prince Donghai did not even bother keeping his voice down.
“The Empress Dowager cannot have complete control over everyone in the palace.
Let us rush out and cause a ruckus, shouting that a servant-girl is performing an assassination.
That is true anyway.
And then… And then we look for Sealbearer Liu Jie and ask for protection, and get him to escort out of the palace.”

“You just said that he was just pretending to be a loyal subject.”

“Ahh… Can you please have a poorer memory? This is a matter of life and death!” Prince Donghai grabbed the Emperor’s arm, wanting to drag him into a fight with the servant-girl guarding the door.

Han Ruzi shook his head.
You deceived me once before, I no longer believe you.”

“Are you talking about the thing with the secret edict? Alright, it was I who leaked the secret.
But you cannot blame me fully.
That old eunuch Jing Yao was watching me like a hawk… Besides, did you not end up unscathed? I was the one who fell on hard times.
Jing Yao was unable to gather evidence of a conspiracy between you and the senior officials, and hence was reprimanded by the Empress Dowager.
He then vented his anger on me, and scolded me abusively, saying that all I do is mess things up.
If I were to become the Emperor… Forget it, I won’t talk about that.
I am sincere this time.
I… I swear to the heavens! If I deceive you again, I will die a horrible death!”

“Alright, I believe you.”

Prince Donghai heaved a sigh of relief.
He turned around and faced the servant-girl who still remained calm.
He said hesitatingly, “Do you think we can defeat her?”

“There is no need to fight.
She is not an assassin.”

“How do you know?”

“I can tell.”

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“Hah, you are too innocent.
And it is no wonder, you don’t even have a Teacher.
Nobody taught you the ways of the inner palace.
Let me tell you, the Imperial Palace is the dirtiest place in the world.
Over here, a human life is the most worthless thing.”

“But you still want to enter the palace and be Emperor.”

“That’s two different things!” Prince Donghai was angered and he flung the Emperor to one side.
He strode to the servant-girl.
“There is nobody else here, so you need not hide any longer.
Speak the truth.
Are you an assassin?”

When Prince Donghai was persuading the Emperor, Meng E had no reactions.
Now, it seemed like she didn’t even hear Prince Donghai, not even batting an eyelid.

Prince Donghai waited for a while and said, “Do you see? Only an assassin can remain this calm, sitting there motionless for so long.
She is waiting for her opportunity.
When it is dark and quiet, maybe this very night, she will kill you in one strike, and then throw the bloody knife into my hands, leaving me unable to explain myself.”

The more Prince Donghai thought about it, the more convinced he became.
Fear filled his heart, and an idea suddenly came to him.
In two steps, he leapt to the side of a pillar.
He shouted loudly, “Assassin, this wicked plot of yours and the Empress Dowager will not succeed.
If you dare lay a hand on the Emperor, I… I will be like Liu Jie and kill myself against this pillar! Let’s see how you would frame me then!”

Even though both were protecting the Emperor with one’s life, Sealbearer Liu Jie had appeared deathly loyal, while Prince Donghai just looked like he was acting shamelessly.
Meng E had no reaction while Han Ruzi laughed.
“Assassins tend to be hidden, no? They probably would not be guarding by the side of the target.”

Prince Donghai thought for a moment.
“You are too juvenile.
The Empress Dowager has set things up to prevent anything unexpected from happening.
She must be an assassin.” Prince Donghai did not actually want to kill himself against the pillar, so he took a step closer to the servant-girl.
He said sincerely, “The Graceful Emperor only has us two sons left.
If we were to both die, the world would fall into great chaos.
The Shang-guan clan has not properly established itself, and the Empress Dowager has not completely controlled the situation.
The various lords of Guan-dong are ready to make trouble.
Assassin… Big sister, martial artists are people with honor, no? Are you willing to see the people suffer from the chaos? I know that you are not doing this of your own volition.
Step away from evil, you still have a chance.”

Meng E still had no reaction.
Han Ruzi said, “Hearing you say that, the more I think she is not an assassin.”

“What do you know?” Prince Donghai glared at the Emperor fiercely.
“I am trying to save both our lives.
You owe me one.”

Meng E suddenly stood up, scaring Prince Donghai into taking two steps back, putting his back against a wall.
Han Ruzi’s heart also started pounding.
Honestly, he was also not sure what Meng E was trying to do.

Poof poof poof.
In the room which was completely enclosed, the three lit candles were extinguished, leaving the surroundings in complete darkness.

[1] A Chinese saying referring to someone who is so useless that he cannot be pushed towards greater heights, like how you can push watery mud up a wall but it will always slide down.

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