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Chapter 2 (Modified Version)

Xie Yu and Zhuo Dingfeng were both tall, handsome men, and their wives were both beautiful and elegant. Even though the parents did not look the same, it was hard to find clear differences in their features.

It would be difficult to identify the child based on features even after he grew older. The decision of whose family he belonged to must be made soon.

The Emperor held the baby and gazed at him for a long while. Though he could not reach a decision, he quickly grew fond of the little boy and thought of a compromise. “Since it is impossible to figure out who this boy belongs to, then it would not do to have him take on either the surname Xie or Zhuo. I will bestow upon him the royal surname and name him in accordance with the convention[1] for my royal sons. His name will be Jing…Jingrui, since he was born on Mt. Rui. He will live with the Xie family one year and the Zhuo family the next, as a son of two families. How is that?”

As the Emperor made a decision and there was no better idea, everyone was forced to agree.



Just like that, Xiao Jingrui received double identities. He was both the eldest young master of the Xie family, son to the Marquess of Ning, and the second son of the Zhuo family of Heaven’s Spring. Due to Jingrui, the once unacquainted Xie and Zhuo families became close as blood. Two years ago, the eldest son of the Zhuo family married the eldest daughter of the Xie family, bonding the two families closer than ever.

“All right brother, since our Father is in his study, let’s go pay our respects.” Xie Bi turned to look at Mei Changsu and asked, “Will Su come with us?”

Mei Changsu smiled. “Of course. I should greet the owner of the manor I am imposing upon.”

The two brothers guided their guest inside the manor in great spirits. The servants along the way could tell from the scene that an honoured guest had arrived. Yet, with his white robes and modest appearance, they were unable to discern his background.

According to the customs of the nobility, the doors to the main hall are not opened unless it is to receive a royal edict or a person of higher status. So, the two brothers led their guests directly to the Eastern Hall. Although there was still a glimmer of light outside, the hall was already bright with candles. Under the warm yellow glow, a person paced back and forth on the smooth marble floor in deep thought, a book in his hands. Upon hearing people entering, he paused and turned, his long beard fluttering.

This was the man upon whom Emperor relied upon, the so-called “Pillar of the Empire”, Marquess of Ning, Xie Yu.

Glorified for his beauty in youth, the man stood before them over half a century old. Nonetheless, his neat features still retained some of the beauties of youth, and his figure was strong and healthy. He was donned in part-worn, casual robes. He wore no luxurious accessories besides a jade belt. In spite of that, one could not ignore the aura of grace he exuded.

Xiao Jingrui and Xie Bi walked forward and bowed respectfully on the floor. They spoke in unison, “Greetings, Father.”

“Rise,” said Xie Yu, raising his hand. His gaze fell upon Xiao Jingrui and his voice turned stern. “So you’ve remembered to come back. I have not seen you for more than two months. You even forgot about the Mid-Autumn Festival, the day of family gatherings. It appears that I have been too lax in your upbringing—”

His lecture just begun, Xie Yu suddenly noticed a fourth person in the hall. He stopped abruptly. “Oh, we have a guest?”

“Yes.” Xiao Jingrui bowed, “This is Mr. Su, a friend of mine. I was often under his care during my travels. I invited him to Jinling to relax and recuperate from his illness.”

Mei Changsu stepped forward and bowed as customs demanded. He said calmly, “I, commoner Su Zhe, greet the Marquess.”

“Mr. Su is too polite. You are our guest, not to mention my son’s good friend. There is no need to be so modest.” Xie Yu raised his hands and returned a slight bow. The man before him appeared frail and sickly, yet still handsome and elegant. He took another look and said, “Mr. Su appears to be an exceptional man. Please treat my manor as your own home while you honour us with your stay. There is no need to feel restrained.”

Mei Changsu gave a slight bow and smiled, then stepped back slowly.

With a guest present, Xie Yu was unable to lecture Xiao Jingrui further. He resigned with a final glare and lightened his tone. “Our guest must be weary from his long travels. Why don’t you two arrange for him to rest? Do not sleep in tomorrow, you must go to the Princess’s Manor and escort your mother home. Come to my study after I return from court, as I have tasks for you two.”

“Yes, Father.” The two brothers bowed in unison and backed out of the hall with Mei Changsu. Only after exiting the courtyard door did they relax their posture.

Word had arrived early, and the servants of the manor had the guest courtyard Snow Cottage cleaned and prepared. New decorations were arranged, and hot water and tea were placed. The whole courtyard appeared remarkably cozy, without a hint of its usual uninhabited nature.

They ate an early dinner during their journey, so Xiao Jingrui and Xie Bi accompanied Mei Changsu for a late snack at the Snow Cottage. While the congee and desserts were arriving, Xiao Jingrui suddenly remembered something and asked, “Where’s Feiliu? Let’s call him to eat with us.”

Mei Changsu laughed, “He has been here all along.”

Just as he finished speaking, Xiao Jingrui and Xie Bi suddenly felt a chill down their spine. They turned to the previous empty corner, where a youth now stood quietly in light blue robes. His features were mesmerizing, yet an air of icy solitude surrounded him, forbidding people from getting close.

“This is not the first time I’ve seen Feiliu, but his skills still give me the jitters.” Xie Bi lowered his voice, “Su, with a guard like him, I feel uneasy even getting close to you. I’m afraid he’ll misunderstand and give me a beating.”

“How can that be? Our Feiliu has a great temper. He’s very well-behaved.” Mei Changsu began to raise his hand, and Feiliu floated over at the next moment. He crouched down and rested his head on Mei Changsu’s knee. “See, he acts spoiled too. It’s just that sometimes he can’t discern real and fake, so simply refrain from play fighting with me when he’s present.”

This exceptionally skilled young guard had hurt his head in the past and suffered from some mental deficiencies. Xiao Jingrui and Xie Bi both knew this. However, they held Mei Changsu in great respect as a senior friend, and never planned on rough-housing with him anyway. There was no need to pay much attention to this advice.

Feiliu did not like the congee, so Xie Bi ordered the servants to bring him some noodles. The group ate and chatted. Suddenly, a voice was heard outside the courtyard. A person laughed brightly and entered the room. “You guys are so slow! I almost grew moss waiting for you!”

Xiao Jingrui was delighted. He jumped up and grabbed the person, “Yujin!”

On the contrary, Xie Bi frowned and stuck his chin out. “I say, Yujin, aren’t you a bit too quick on the news? We’ve just returned, and it’s so late. What’re you doing here?”

“I notified your steward to send me notice as soon as you’ve returned.” Yan Yujing walked forward swiftly to greet Mei Changsu. “Su, you look great today. You must’ve been so bored travelling with these two without me, right?”

———

[1] Often, there would be a naming convention for each generation within a family. For example, the current line of the Emperor’s sons are named Xiao Jing__. As such, we have Xiao Jingrui, Jingxuan, Jinghuan, etc.


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