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Chapter 1 (Modified Version)

Jinling, royal capital of the great Liang empire.

There, every object was steeped in royal brilliance. Even the city gate was exceptionally solid and majestic. Squeezed between the endless stream of people entering the city was an unexceptional blue-roofed carriage. It swayed and inched forward, finally stopping a few dozen feet before the city gate.

A handsome young man dressed in white lifted the curtains of the carriage and jumped down. He took a few steps, then raised his head to look at the word “Jinling” above the gate.

The two riders in front of the carriage sensed that something was amiss. They looked behind, then turned their horses in unison and trotted back. The two were dressed as nobility, and appeared to be of similar age. The young man in the front called out, “Su, what’s wrong?”



Mei Changsu did not answer. He remained, gazing steadily above the gate. The wind lifted his dark hair and scattered a few strands across his pale face. His figure appeared forlorn, as if weighted by the sorrows of life.

“Are you tired, Su?” The other rider had caught up, and asked Mei Changsu with concern. “We’re almost there. You’ll be able to get a proper rest today.”

“Jingrui, Xie Bi.” A smile flitted across Mei Changsu’s colourless lips. “I want to stand here for a bit longer… So many years have passed, yet Jinling has barely changed. I suppose the capital remains as magnificent as ever past this gate…”

Slightly startled, Xiao Jingrui asked, “So…you have been to Jinling before, Su?”

“Fifteen years ago, I was under the guidance of Mr. Li Cong at Jinling. I have not returned since he was demoted and left the capital.” Mei Changsu sighed faintly and closed his eyes, as if trying to erase the grandiose. “The memories of my teacher make me lament over the past. Like smoke, like dust, they are scattered, never to return.”

Xiao Jingrui and Xie Bi became inadvertently solemn at the mention of the great Confucian scholar Mr. Li.

Li Cong was a famous Royal Tutor with vast knowledge. He tutored the royal sons by the Emperor’s edict, and yet did not neglect his teachings outside the palace. Both the rich and the poor attended his lectures without distinction, and his good name was unparalleled. However, he angered the Emperor one year for some unknown reason, and was demoted from the great Royal Tutor to a mere commoner. He left the capital with anger and died with anguish, leaving pain in the hearts of all scholars. Through their journey to Jinling together, Xiao Jingrui and Xie Bi both thought Su to be a remarkable intellectual. Yet, neither suspected the source of his knowledge to be this great scholar.

“Mr. Li would surely not want you to harm your body with sorrow.” Xiao Jingrui comforted Mei Changsu quietly. “Your body is unwell. Our purpose in inviting you to Jinling was for you to relax and recuperate. We as friends would feel bad if you immerse yourself in grief.”

Mei Changsu was silent. Then, he slowly opened his eyes and said, “Don’t worry. Since I arrived here, it is only natural for me to pay my respects to my late teacher and his tragic circumstances. There is no reason to wallow in sorrow. I am fine. Let’s go in.”

It was nearing dusk. The day market had closed, and the night market had yet to open. After navigating the quiet streets, the three soon arrived before a majestic estate. Hanging high above was striking sign, “Manor of the Marquess of Ning”.

“Oh my! Quick, go notify everyone. The eldest young master and the second young master have returned!” It was the time of the evening when the servants were busy lighting the lanterns around the manor. A sharp-eyed servant had seen the party and cried out, then hurried forward to greet his masters.

The three descended from their respective horses and carriage and entered the manor through the main entrance. A great mural greeted their eyes, with the words “Empire’s Protector and Pillar” by the Emperor’s brush.

“Uncle Qin, where are Father and Mother?” asked Xiao Jingrui to an elderly servant that hurried out.

“The Marquess is in his study, but the Madam is paying respects to Buddha today and will be resting at the Princess’s Manor.”

“Then what about my Mom and Dad? My brother and sister?”

“Master and Madam Zhuo have returned home. Young master Zhuo and our young mistress accompanied them.”

Mei Changsu could not help but chuckle over the conversation. “Such chaos! There’s Father and Mother, then Mom and Dad. On top of that, you don’t share a surname with either of your brothers. Someone uninformed would be so confused by this conversation.”

“They would certainly be confused if they are uninformed, but Jingrui’s background is basically a legend now. There must be very few who are still ignorant of it.”

“Xie Bi, where are your manners? Refer to me with elder brother instead of my name.” Xiao Jingrui put on a stern face, and the three laughed in unison.

But jokes aside, Xie Bi was right. The circumstances of Xiao Jingrui’s birth were extraordinarily bizarre, and involved both the ancient noble family of the Marquess of Ning and the famous martial arts group Heaven’s Spring. There must be no one alive who is still ignorant of the story.

Twenty-four years ago, the Marquess of Ning, Xie Yu was deployed. He left the capital and his pregnant wife—the Emperor’s sister, Princess Liyang—to fight against the southern Xia empire. In the same year, the master of the famous Heaven’s Spring martial artist group, Zhuo Dingfeng, entrusted the care of his pregnant wife to a friend in Jinling while he went to battle with the Demonic Sect. Of course, life never goes as expected. A plague suddenly broke out within the capital and the upper class quickly evacuated to nearby temples for refuge. By coincidence, the two madams of the Xie family and Heaven’s Spring ended up living in separate courtyards of the same temple.

The two women quickly became acquainted in the lonesome mountain. The friendship blossomed, and the two would often be found together. One day, while the two madams were chatting over a game of Go[1], they were both overcome with labour pains at the same time. It was a day of high wind and thunderstorms. The servants were in a flurry of activity until midnight, when finally, the cries of infants could be heard. Two boys were born almost simultaneously.

Amidst joy and laughter, the midwives carried the two precious little masters to bathe in another room.

Right then, an accident occurred.

A tree was struck by lightning within the ancient temple. A branch broke and fell on top of the delivery room. In the blink of an eye, tiles scattered, beams shook, and windows broke. Strong gusts of wind blew into the room, snuffing out all the candles. The servants somehow managed to move their madams to safety amidst screams and chaos. The midwives, who fell on the ground in terror, quickly grabbed the two babies from the wooden tub and ran out.

Thankfully, no one was hurt. Everyone relocated to another room, settled in the two mothers, and breathed a long sigh of relief. That was when they realized that there was a huge problem.

The two baby boys were both carried out naked in complete darkness. Both were similarly wrinkled, both cried loudly, and both were of similar weight and features. Which one belonged to the Marchioness, and which one belonged to Madam Zhuo?

During the second day, the problem grew greater, as one baby boy had died.

As the Marchioness was a Princess, this case naturally found its way into the ears of the Emperor, who ordered the two families to bring the baby boy to Court. He first ordered the Royal Physicians to identify the boy by blood[2]. However, the baby’s blood would merge with blood from both families, without any observable difference. The Emperor took a better look at the appearances of the two pairs of parents, and knew that the situation would be hard to resolve.

———

[1] A board game. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go_(game)

[2] The test would be administered by placing a drop of blood from two different people in the same cup of water. The theory was that if the two drops of blood merged, they were kin. If they did not merge and stayed separate, then the two people were not related. In modern day, we know that this method is actually inaccurate.


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