”Young miss! ”
The wide temple doors opened as a streak of lightening fluttered through the dark clouds. The Sanxing  deities were bathed in an ominous blue tone for just a split second.
Xu Suyins fingers trembled as she tried to hold the incense sticks tightly. She didn know how it happened. Just a few days ago, her childhood friend and the love of her life, Jiang Donghai, was happily embracing her after finishing their marital vows.
He was the youngest general of the nation, assuming the position just at the age of seventeen, after returning victoriously from battle. To the empire, he was a menacing tyrant in the battlefield, but to her, hell always be the young boy with milk behind his ears.
Xu Suyins eyelashes fluttered as tears swelled up in her eyes.
Jiang Donghai… my love…
She could still remember how his pinky finger reached out to hers as their vows were taking place. She still remembered the way his eyes lit up with pure, unbridled joy as he lifted the red veil from her head in their boudoir. And, she could still remember his shy smiles as he leaned down to kiss and love her through the night.
Someone as sweet as him would not be able to plot against the emperor.
Xu Suyins maid ran over to her in quick strides as Xu Suyin stared up at the Sanxing deities.
Fuxing, Luxing, and Shouxing, I beg of you, please let my husband pass this trial without any hardship. Please bless him with a life full of prosperity and happiness.
As she spun the incense sticks clockwise, a strong wave of gust entered the temple.
”Young Miss, the Young Master was convicted of his crime. ”
The incense sticks were blown out by the wind as Xu Suyin dropped the sticks with disbelief. Crystalline tears rolled down her cheeks as she fell to the ground in disbelief, ”D-Donghai!! ” she whispered as she broke out into sobs.
She could still remember the moment he confessed to her. Back then, their days were filled with tranquility and the innocence of their youth. They didn know or care about the social order or about their parents professions. They just loved each other and that was it.
If she wasn the Prime Ministers only daughter, they could have married without any sort of interference. But, the moment Jiang Donghai asked for her hand in marriage, he was brutally kicked out of her home. Her brothers had publicly shamed him for loving someone who was ”above ” him. Her father made sure Jiang Donghais family was crushed so he wouldn even dream about her anymore.
Regardless of all the barriers that came in their direction, Jiang Donghai promised to be a man who could marry her righteously.
On her fourteenth birthday, he gave her a jade hairpin and set off to fight in the war.
Her family was relieved. Those who went to war didn come back easily. They tried to set her up with other noble sons, but she did her best to ward off the proposals. She really couldn imagine a world without her Jiang Donghai.
And just as he promised, Jiang Donghai returned to the empire, holding the beloved scepter of the Western Mo Emperor.
The war that had ravaged the empire for almost twenty years came to a melancholy end in just two years under the leadership of Jiang Donghai. Within just a few months, Jiang Donghai was the most celebrated man across the empire. He was awarded with the highest honors, and at the civilians request, he became the General for the empire.
When he returned to the Xu family house, no one could deny him.
Begrudgingly, her father handed her over to him.
She thought no one would be able to separate her from her childhood sweetheart. But on the second day after their wedding, he was forcefully taken out of their abode on grounds of conspiring to overthrow the emperor.
When her father and brothers refused to help her prove her husbands innocence, she had gone to the palace, kneeling on the ground for hours and hours at end in hopes of meeting the emperor.
Perhaps her prayers were not sincere, because while she was kneeling, she received news of the emperors death, and that was when the true madness began.
The last person to visit the emperor was Jiang Donghai, and the sword he typically used was the weapon that was lodged into the emperors heart.
”He was framed, Lanying, he was framed! ” she clutched onto her maid as she sobbed harder.
The boy who fought for her love would never succumb to any form of greed. He was a man that was loved by the people. All the wealth he gained from the Western Mo Empire was split equally by the civilians. Though the ministers hated him for it, that one action caused the empire to fully support the emperor.
Such a man would never fight for the throne.
”M-miss ” her maid cried as she held onto Xu Suyin, ”D-don be s-shocked… b-but the newly crowned Emperor hung him in front of the palace gates… y-young masters body is hanging out-outside. ”
Xu Suyins eyes widened as she felt blackness overcome her.
”Wake up you wretched girl! ”
Xu Suyin felt chilling cold water envelope her body. Her lips trembled as her eyes fluttered open. Her clothes were much heavier than usual, sticking onto her body while her hair was pinned up tightly.
”F-father, ” she managed to tremble as she groaned in pain. Swallowing, she forced herself to sit up, but as she glanced down, her eyes widened in horror.
Her robes were red and embroidered with heavy golden thread.
”W-whats happening, ” she tried to swallow down her fear, but she noticed that her throat was choked up.
Since finding out her husband passed away, she tried her best to honor his last rites in secret. She went to the temples and prayed for his soul to find salvation in the afterlife, and for the gods to take her life away as well. Because without Jiang Donghai, there was no life for her to live.
The last memory she had was of her kneeling on the temple grounds, whispering the silent prayers for her husband. After lighting the last incense, her fever took over.
”Your wedding, ” her father grated as he pulled on her hand.
Xu Suyin winced with pain as panic filled her. Her small hand rested on her fathers hand as she shook her head, ”No, no, no, please father, ” she sobbed. ”Im already married to Jiang Donghai. You can , it would be against the heavens for me to marry again, ” she whispered with desperation.
The first time she donned on wedding clothes, pride and happiness filled her heart. She was finally marrying the man of her dreams, and as such, she made sure every little seam of her dress was perfect. She spent countless hours during the night, hand sewing each and every thread. When Jiang Donghai saw her in the dress, he beamed with pride.
Now, the same dress was being shown to another man.
”You will get married! ” her father bellowed.
Xu Suyins eyes widened as she cowered in fear. Never before had she ever seen her fathers anger manifest in such a manner. Even when Jiang Donghai appeared at their house the first time to ask for her hand, Xu Weizhe, had just looked blankly ahead. Even when the emperor allowed for the marriage to happen, his lips just twitched imperceptibly as he bowed down.
”As if it weren a disgrace for you to marry that low level creature, ” her father hissed as his grip on her wrist tightened. ”You caused me to become the laughing stock in the cabinet, Xu Suyin, ” he inched closer to her as his eyes darkened.
”B-but his majesty was the one to decree–, ”
”You have no right to bring up his majestys name, ” he slapped Xu Suyins face as the sound ricocheted the walls. ”That bastard overstepped his bounds, and I will not tolerate him to continue! You will get married to the Minister of Revenue–, ”
”No! ” she shouted with grief.
Before Jiang Donghai returned from war, one of the men her father tried to set her up with was the Minister of Revenue, Chang Shunyuan. He was nearly fifteen years older than her, already having three concubines. His main wife had passed away just a year prior, leaving him with a newborn daughter by the name of Chang Xiaoling, while his three other concubines gave him more daughters.
He desperately wanted to take another wife for a son, so he offered a good, hefty dowry to Xu Weizhe that was hard to refuse. As much as it was below their status for Xu Suyin to marry Chang Shunyuan, everyone in the empire knew Xu Suyin was ”damaged ” goods. She had married a traitor, so it would be lucky for Xu Suyin to be able to even restart her life.
”You don have a right to make the choice, ” Xu Weizhe slapped his daughter again, not minding for the bruise that was quickly forming on her cheeks. He tossed her into the wedding carriage and turned to his closest guard, ”Xiao Wu, make sure to deliver Little Miss to the wedding hall without any problems, ” his eyes narrowed as he glared at the maid.
”If Little Miss is not married, Ill hang your family first, ” he threatened Lanying before he walked away with his robes billowing out.
Lanyings legs trembled before she fell to the ground. She had grown up with the Young Miss together. Whenever her family fell into hardship, it was the Young Miss who helped. Even the Young Master… he was the sole reason why her brother was getting an education instead of working as a slave. If it weren for their kindness, her family wouldn be at the place it was at right now.
But, at the same time, she knew better than to cross Xu Weizhe.
Her eyes were glossy as she stepped into the carriage.
On one side was her family and on the other was the young woman who helped her in more ways than one.
If only fate wasn so cruel to split the pair of lovers…
”Lanying!! ” Xu Suyin threw herself onto her maids body. ”I don want to get married, ” it seemed as though all of her worst nightmares were coming true within a span of a few days. As her fingernails dug into Lanyings back, she announced, ”Im going to kill myself. I won be anyones bride except Jiang Donghais. ”
Xu Suyin let go of Lanying and wiped her tears with her sleeve. Ever since her husbands death three months ago, she knew she had no purpose of living. She could tell her father, brothers, and even mother viewed her as an unwanted burden. But, she ignored all those vicious stares. Until she could properly complete all of Jiang Donghais last rites, there was no reason for her to leave so soon.
Though she was not done with her prayers, death was better than becoming another mans wife.
”You can die, ” Lanying muttered as her fingernails dug into her palm. Guilt washed over her as she remembered how she blackmailed the physician. Just like her, Jiang Donghai helped the physician at a time of need. So even though Jiang Donghai was marked as a traitor, the physician looked the other way.
”N-not you too, ” Xu Suyins eyes became glossy as she slumped down in the carriage. She placed her hand over her head as she felt a wave of nausea.
”Young Master would want you to live, ” Lanying whispered.
Xu Suyin stared up at her maid with horror. Jiang Donghai
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