”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 was a man full of love. Even when it seemed as though they could never get married, he promised to never marry another woman. Her family sneered at those words, telling her it was just lies to trick her. But she knew he was speaking the truth. This was the same little boy who risked his life to save her from drowning.
She was sure even if his death, Jiang Donghai would tell her to live her life and forget about him. But how could she? He loved her as much as she loved him.
”Especially since you are pregnant with his child. ”
Xu Suyins eyes widened as she turned to her maid. Jiang Donghai and she only had one night of passion–the night of their wedding. After that, they were thrown into despair with his false accusation and death. She hadn even paid attention to her own health during these months, as she worried more about Jiang Donghais soul resting in peace.
Her hands slowly rested on her belly.
There was only the slightest bulge… something so small it could easily be missed… but this was the product of her and Jiang Donghais love. Her baby was the last remnant of Jiang Donghai in this world, and she better than anyone else knew that she would do everything in her power to protect Jiang Donghais last gift for her.
”Miss, ” Lanying straightened her back as she turned to Xu Suyin. ”My family will always be indebted to you and the young master. Im sure each and every family member of mine would make the same decision. But, I have a plan, ” she turned to Xu Suyin, slightly unsure of herself, ”o-only if you agree of course. ”
”Be careful, Young Miss, ” Lanying whispered as she helped Xu Suyin out of the window.
While they were in the carriage, Xu Suyin and Lanying exchanged clothing. After Lanying married Chang Shunyuan, she would help Xu Suyin escape from the backdoor. Afterwards, Lanying would ensure all the lights were extinguished so Chang Shunyuan had no doubt there was a bridal swap. It would give Xu Suyin ample time to escape, even if it put Lanying in direct danger.
”Im sorry, Lanying, ” Xu Suyin whispered as she held onto the window. Lanying and her grew up as best friends, sharing everything they could with each other. After Xu Suyin was engaged to Jiang Donghai, Xu Suyin teased Lanying about finding a man to marry for her.
Yet again, her selfishness won over others happiness.
Perhaps that is why all of my prayers are not working, Xu Suyin sadly thought.
Lanying reached out to her masters hand, ”Theres no need to be sorry, Little Miss, ” Lanying smiled heartfully. ”You were by my side my entire life, supporting me at every junction you could. Young Master helped my brother enroll in school. H-hes now well known! ” tears bubbled in her eyes. These two masters helped her in more ways than one. It was the least she could do.
Xu Suyin smiled as she hugged Lanying, ”Im not Little Miss anymore. Youve married Chang Shunyuan, Lanying. Now, you can call me Xu Suyin like everyone else. ”
Lanyings eyes widened as she slowly shook her head with a blush, ”I could never, ” she whispered. She glanced at Xu Suyin and smiled. Pulling out a small red pouch, she placed it into Xu Suyins hand, ”This should help you, Miss. ”
After she found out her miss was pregnant, she traded all her savings into gold so she could help her miss. Now that they had to part ways, this was the last thing she could do for her miss, especially since she had no idea when she would see her miss again.
Xu Suyin stared at the small pouch and shook her head. She placed the pouch in Lanyings hands, ”No, ” she smiled softly as she glanced down at her belly. Rubbing it gently, she whispered, ”Jiang Donghai did so much to fight for our love. I couldn save him in time, but now, he gave me something to live for. ”
”You did more than I could have ever imagined, Lanying. I-I won ever forget you, ” Xu Suyin whispered before she jumped off the ledge. She closed her eyes as she ignored the lump in her throat.
”Jiang Donghai, ” she whispered. ”I won let our baby go through the same misfortune as us. ”
”Get ready to push, Suyin-ah, ” the old grandmother muttered as she took a washcloth to wipe away the sweat that was accumulating on Xu Suyins forehead.
Xu Suyin held onto the bedsheets as she shook her head. The pain she was experiencing right now was indescribable. Leaning forward, she tried to grab onto Granny Fangs arms.
”I-I…, ” her eyes shut tightly as her body writhed in another wave of pain.
After leaving Lanying, she struggled to properly hide herself. Despite no one knowing her plan of running away, her father had set up many guards. The first night, she had to hide away in the Chang familys animal shed, and it wasn until Chang Shunyuan stormed through the halls the following morning did she have time to escape through the back door and leave the capital.
After that, she had difficulties finding employment. Her entire life, she lived well beyond her means. Her father had hired every type of help she could possibly ask for. The only activities she had to concern herself for were the womanly teachings of the empire: poetry, art, and music. Unfortunately, that such work was not needed.
”Suyin-ah, think about Donghai, ” the old grandmother muttered. ”Do your best for him. ”
Old Granny Fang came to her like a blessing.
While other civilians steered clear of her because of her pregnant belly and shabby clothing, Granny Fang came up to her, warning her that if she didn take care of herself, she would lose the baby.
Xu Suyin refused to believe the grandmothers words. This was Jiang Donghais legacy she was carrying. A baby who had Jiang Donghai as a father would be as strong as him!
But, in the following week, she began to notice some spotting. Her baby kicked less than she hoped for, so she immediately ran to the grandmother to ask her what was wrong.
”It hurts, Granny Fang, ” she cried as she clutched onto her belly. She felt a small kick and couldn help but smile. ”A-Are all babies like this? ” Her mother had three children in total, including herself, and she had always boasted about how easy her pregnancies were.
Our baby is just like you, Donghai. Not willing to give up.
”No, ” she mentioned with deadpan as she placed her hand on Xu Suyins stomach. ”Only the most stubborn ones give a tough time, ” she smiled as she flicked Xu Suyins head.
Despite Granny Fang wanting nothing to do with her, Xu Suyin was persistent about trying to find answers. She kneeled before the woman, she helped with the yardwork in the best she could, she even bought a few supplies for the grandmother with the little money she had.
After two days of this, Granny Fang eventually relented and offered Xu Suyin a place to stay in exchange for help around the house.
Xu Suyin managed to let out a small smile, before she winced in pain, ”J-just like Donghai then. ”
It had been already fifteen hours now since she first went into labor. As much as she loved her baby, she just wanted the pain to be over.
Another wave of pain came through her as Granny Fang raised her brow. She lifted the blankets and muttered, ”Suyin-ah, its time. Push in time with your contraction! ”
She rolled her head backwards as she nodded her head meekly.
She was twelve years old when she held a newborn baby in her hands. At the time, she was in pure awe at how small the human being was. The mother, though tired, gazed at her baby with absolute pride and love. She didn understand how she could do that as the woman screamed for a few hours.
But now that she was in the womans position, she understood.
The pain, the excitement, the joy.
After carrying her little baby for the past nine months, it was time for them to meet.
I love you, Jiang Donghai. I love you. My greatest regret in life is that I was unable to love you for longer.
A loud cry rung through the air as Xu Suyin closed her eyes.
A single tear rolled down her face.
”Suyin-ah, its a baby girl, ” Granny Fang announced as she handed over the wet, sticky, and angry baby to Xu Suyin.
Xu Suyin took the baby into her arms as she began crying, ”D-Donghai, ” she wailed alongside her baby as she put the young infant to her chest.
”Enough crying! ” the old grandmother scowled as she threw a wet towel towards Xu Suyin. ”If I had known there would be two babies, I wouldve left you to the wolves! ”
Xu Suyin bubbled with laughter as she kissed the top of her daughters forehead. Granny Fang walked over, and gently scrubbed her daughters face as Xu Suyin looked on with pride.
Though she was just an infant, Xu Suyin was already able to spot the cute features her daughter inherited from her father. She had the same eyes and mouth as her father, and now that she was mad, she was as red as her father as well.
”What do you think? ” Granny Fang whispered.
Xu Suyin picked up her daughters little hand and brushed her thumb across the little fingers. It was enough to stimulate her daughter into grabbing onto her finger. Excited, Xu Suyin gazed up at Granny Fang, ”She grabbed on to me!! ”
Granny Fang smiled at Xu Suyin before she took the baby out of her hands, ”Shell do much more than that, ” she mentioned while rolling her eyes.
When Xu Suyin first entered her life, she considered the young woman almost as a burden. Granny Fang needed an able bodied assistant, and there was only so much time Xu Suyin could work before she had to rest. But, as much as she wanted Xu Suyin to leave, Granny Fang didn have the heart to do something so cruel.
So she begrudgingly allowed the pregnant woman to stay.
Slowly, Xu Suyin entered into her heart, becoming the daughter she never had. The chirpy little girl would always excitedly tell her about the adventures her and her husband had in their childhoods or about how the baby kicked for the millionth time. Whenever she was falling ill, Xu Suyin would go out of her way to take care of her, even if she became more tired.
She didn think she would be able to love the baby.
But, as she held the small girl in her hands, she noticed how heavy her heart was. The girl was irritating, yet, she somehow made her happy.
Granny Fang gently poked the babys cheek, causing the baby to open her eyes for a brief moment. Swallowing, Granny Fang turned to Xu Suyin handing over the child immediately, ”Do you have a name in mind? ”
Xu Suyin stared at her little princess adoringly as she slowly nodded her head, ”Yes… Yingyue , ” she whispered.
All the late night conversations she had with her Donghai happened while they were looking into the moons reflection in the the riverbed.
”Jiang Yingyue, ” Granny Fang muttered as the smile on Xu Suyins face grew larger.
I promise to you, Donghai… I will shower our daughter with more love than she can even imagine.
 Sanxing (or ”Three Stars ”) Deities are Fuxing, Luxing, and Shouxing who represent prosperity, status, and longevity respectively.
 Yingyue is a name that means ”reflection of the moon ”
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