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“Injury?”  Xiao Jingrui was shocked.  “How did Qingyao dage get an injury?”

“You ask me, who am I supposed to ask?”

“Weren’t you just acting like you knew everything?”

“How could I know everything, if there were really people on this earth who knew everything, that would be the Master of Langya Hall and that Brother Su of ours……”  Yan Yujin rolled his eyes, “Ai, let’s go ask Brother Su, perhaps he really will know how Brother Qingyao got injured……”

“Tsk,”  Xiao Jingrui rolled his eyes.  “What proof do you have that Qingyao dage is injured?  He is a jianghu man, there’s no shame in being injured, so why would he pretend to be sick and lie to everyone?”

“Not necessarily……what if he was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing when he got injured?”

“Yujin!”  Xiao Jingrui’s face darkened.  “What do you mean by that?  My Qingyao dage is chivalrous and heroic, what shameful thing could he be a part of?”

“Why are you so angry?”  Yan Yujin glared at him.  “When I was young, I teased a girl once and you said I’d done something terribly shameful, and you’ve kept saying that all these years, but have I ever gotten angry?”

“You…I……”  Xiao Jingrui didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  “I was just joking!”

“Then how do you know I’m not joking?”

Xiao Jingrui gave up dealing with this person and only shrugged, softening his tone as he said, “Yujin, never joke about my dage like that again……”

“Alright, alright,”  Yan Yujin waved a hand and knocked over the cups on the table, and was just about to say something when a call was suddenly heard from the direction of the main road.

“Boss, two cups of tea, please.”

“Right-o!”  The owner of the tea house filled two cups and brought them over to a plain-looking carriage stopped at the side of the road.  A hand reached out from the window and drew the curtain aside slightly to accept the tea, then a moment later, the empty cups and some money were handed back through the curtain and the carriage immediately departed, heading in the direction of the city.

Yan Yujin clutched his cup, forgetting to drink as he gazed dazedly after the carriage.

“What it is?”  Xiao Jingrui took the cup from his hands and set it down, worried he would spill it over himself.  “Was there something strange about that carriage?”

“Just now……just now, when the curtain was drawn aside, I saw that behind the person who wanted the tea…there sat another person……”

If Xie Bi had been sitting there, he would have immediately retorted, “What’s so strange about people sitting in a carriage?  Did you expect to see dogs inside instead?”  But it was Xiao Jingrui sitting there beside him, and so there was only a gentle inquiry, “Who was it?”

“I don’t know if my eyes were mistaken……”  Yan Yujin grasped his friend by the arm.  “It was He Wenxin!”

“How is that possible?”  Xiao Jingrui stared back at him.  “He Wenxin is about to be executed in the Spring Execution, he should be in the prisons, how could he be going in and out of the city?”

“That’s why I thought I was wrong……could it be someone who looks like him?”

“Maybe, there are so many people in this world, there must be some who look similar.”

“Never mind, perhaps it really was just a trick of the light……”  Yan Yujin stood and shook out his sleeves.  “We’ve rested long enough, let’s go.”

Xiao Jingrui paid for their tea and picked up his little box, and the two joined the crowds heading for the city, appearing relaxed and at ease, and as they passed by a stall selling fruits and candies, Xiao Jingrui casually picked up a potful, and no one knew why he was buying so many of these ordinary snacks.  As they neared the gates of the city, there was a larger crowd, likely because of the routine inspections at the gates, but the flow of people still managed to enter the city in a reasonably calm manner.  The guards at the city gates belonged to the Capital Patrol, and the Capital Patrol was controlled by the Marquis of Ning, and when they saw the First Young Master of their Marquis’ household, they all bowed in greeting.  Xiao Jingrui had never carried arrogant airs, and he only smiled and nodded, handing over the food in his hands to their leader and instructing him to “share these snacks with your brothers after the shift is over” before passing through the gates with Yan Yujin.

“So it turns out you bought those for them….”  The son of the Imperial Uncle laughed and nudged his friend with his elbow.  “People who don’t know you will say you know how to suck up to people, but in fact, you just have a kind heart.”

“You forget, when we left the city this morning, it was already these seven uncles standing there at the gates, and he mentioned that the fruits and candies outside the city are very good and told us to try some.  I just brought him some since we were passing by anyway, what does that have to do with a kind heart?”

“I did forget.”  Yan Yujin gave an exaggerated sigh.  “Oh Jingrui, you are so considerate, whoever marries you in the future will certainly be lucky indeed.”

“Shut up,” Xiao Jingrui laughed as he shoved him.  As they tussled, a pair of riders suddenly thundered down the road, and the two friends hurried to one side, looking after the horses with a frown.  “Why is the Ministry of Justice in such a hurry?”

“The day after tomorrow is the Spring Execution, the platform for the execution was built yesterday outside the market at the eastern part of the city, and a guard was set up around the area yesterday.  Those two must have been hurrying over for the change in shift.”  Yan Yujin looked at the smoke in the distance.  “I guess……the Earl of Wen will come to watch the execution….”

“His son was murdered, it’s natural for him to be so involved.”  Xiao Jingrui shook his head and sighed, “If that He Wenxin wasn’t so arrogant all the time, he would not have committed a crime like this murder……but no matter what, he deserves the punishment he has been given.”

Yan Yujin narrowed his eyes, seeming to be in deep thought, but did not say anything else.  The two split up at the door to the Yan manor, and when Xiao Jingrui arrived home, he only stopped in his rooms to change before going over to the western courtyard where the Zhuo family was staying.

Zhuo Dingfeng was not there, and in the courtyard, Mistress Zhuo and the heavily pregnant Xie Qi were sitting under the cherry blossoms amidst a pile of needlework, but when she saw Xiao Jingrui come in, Mistress Zhuo immediately put down the embroidery in her hands and beckoned her son over to her side.

“Mum, how are you today?”  Xiao Jingrui greeted her, straightening immediately.  Compared to the reserved and cooler Grand Princess Liyang, the mistress of the Zhuo family was even more motherly, and had always doted on Jingrui even more than Qingyao, and now she took his hand and asked gently, “Did you have fun today?  Are you hungry?  Do you want some pastries?”

“Rui ge really is Mum’s favourite,” Xie Qi couldn’t hold back her smile.  “You are the eldest son of the Xie family, but the youngest son of Mum here.  Go ahead and act as spoiled as you like then, just pretend your sister-in-law¹ isn’t sitting over here.”

Xiao Jingrui couldn’t help laughing too.  “To tell you the truth, although you have been married for a few years now, I still see you as my little sister, not as my older sister-in-law.  Here, I brought you these, see if you like them.”

Xie Qi tore open the wrapping and took out the group of twelve little clay dolls, arranging them on the table, an expression of delight on her face.  “They are so cute, thank you, Rui ge.”

“In the future, Qi mei will have this many adorable little babies too….”

“Rui ge, please, there are twelve here, if I give birth to so many, I’ll become like those……”  Although Xie Qi was a bright and lively girl, she couldn’t help trailing off and blushing as she giggled.

“That’s right, where’s Qingyi mei?”

“She went out.”


“What, only you’re allowed to have outings, other people can’t go out?  Bi ge went with her, don’t worry.”

“But when I tried to invite Second Brother this morning, he said he had something to do, and couldn’t come with me?”

Xie Qi laughed.  “He just didn’t want to go with you, pay attention, will you?”

“Rui’er is honest, why are you laughing at him?”  Mistress Zhuo hurriedly intervened, and brushed Xiao Jingrui’s forehead as she continued, “When are you going to bring back a pretty little girl for your mum, then, eh?”

“Mum……”  Xiao Jingrui cast about frantically for a change of topic.  “How is Qingyao dage‘s illness today?  Qi mei looks so relaxed, I guess he must be doing better?”

“Much better.  He had some medicine at noon and went back to sleep, he’ll probably be awake by now, you can go and see.”

Xiao Jingrui seized the opportunity and escaped to the house, the sound of Xie Qi’s laughter drifting after him.

Zhuo Qingyao and his wife lived in the eastern cottage, which held a bedroom and a living room, and the fragrance of herbal medicine still lingered in the air.  Because the windows were all shut, it was a little dim, but this was no difficulty for Xiao Jingrui, who had exceedingly good vision, and as soon as he walked in, he saw that the patient on the bed was sitting up, his eyes open.

“Dage, you’re awake?”  Xiao Jingrui hurried over to help him sit, putting a cushion behind him for support.

“You were all laughing so happily outside, I woke up a while ago.”  Zhuo Qingyao’s smile was a little weak, but he was looking much better, and Xiao Jingrui went over and opened a few of the windows, letting in some air, then returned to sit by the side of the bed, asking concernedly, “Dage, are you feeling better?”

“I can already get up and move about, but Mum and xiao Qi are making me stay in bed.”

“They’re just worried about you.”  Xiao Jingrui saw that Zhuo Qingyao seemed to be favouring his waist as he moved, and as Yan Yujin’s words flashed across his mind, his face fell a little.

“What is it?” Zhuo Qingyao put a hand on his shoulder and asked in a low voice, “Did something bad happen when you were out?”

“No……”  Xiao Jingrui forced a smile and was quiet for a moment, but he couldn’t stop himself from asking, “Dage, have you fought with anyone since you came to the capital?”

“No,”  Although Zhuo Qingyao answered immediately, something seemed to flash across his gaze.  “Why do you ask?”

“Then……”  Xiao Jingrui hesitated for a moment, then suddenly gritted his teeth and said, “then how were you injured?”

His question was so blunt that Zhuo Qingyao was taken aback, and after a long moment, he sighed and said, “You’ve realized I’m injured?  Well, don’t tell Mum or xiao Qi, I’ll be fine with a little rest.”

“Did my dad ask you to do something?”  Xiao Jingrui asked, gripping Zhuo Qingyao’s hand tightly.

“Jingrui, don’t worry so much, Father-in-law is doing all of this for the country and for the people……”

Xiao Jingrui stared dazedly at his dage, feeling a chill in his heart.  Just what kind of a thing was this fight for the throne, that it could drive people so crazy and suck the family and friends he cared so much about so far into its depths?  His father, Xie Bi, Brother Su, dage…..and after all this fighting, what would they obtain in the end?

Qi mei was about to give birth, but his father had sent his own son-in-law out into danger, and when he came back injured, he hadn’t even dared tell his own family the truth, so how could it have been anything honourable?  For the country and for the people – could such sober words really be used to describe the current situation?

“Jingrui, are you letting your thoughts get carried away again?”  Zhuo Qingyao gently patted his little brother on the cheek.  “It is because you have always been kind and generous of heart, and because Mum and Mother-in-law always favoured you, that Father-in-law has never thought to discuss the great things he has planned with you. Prince Yu, in his confusion, is coveting the highest position, and as the Pillar of the Court, how could Father-in-law stand aside and not share the burdens of his lord?  You have grown up, and your scholarly and martial abilities are both outstanding, so sometimes, you will have to take the initiative to give Father-in-law a little help.”

Xiao Jingrui’s mouth tightened, his gaze growing unusually guarded.  He was kind and generous, it was true, but he was not totally unaware of his father’s intentions and the situation in the court.  Hearing Qingyao’s words, he knew that he, and even his Zhuo dad, had already been completely taken in by his Xie dad, and that it would be useless to try to convince him otherwise.  The only thing he did not know was what it was that Qingyao dage had taken such a great risk to accomplish…….

“Dage, your Tianquan swordsmanship is far superior to mine, and few in jianghu are your match, so what kind of a person was it who managed to injure you so badly?”

Zhuo Qingyao sighed.  “I’m ashamed to say, although I lost to him, I didn’t even get a good look at his face….”

“Then where was it that dage received this injury?”

Zhuo Qingyao’s brows furrowed and he shook his head.  “Father-in-law ordered me not to tell you certain things……I hear you are close with that Chief Mei of Jiangzuo?”

Xiao Jingrui muttered to himself and nodded, “Yes.”

“That Chief Mei is truly a remarkable talent, Father-in-law originally thought that he could become a strong support for the Crown Prince, but who could have predicted that this person would be such a poor judge of character, and actually choose Prince Yu instead……Jingrui, I know he has taken care of you in the past, and you are a person who remembers kindnesses done to you, so of course you have a close relationship with him now, but you must also remember and keep in your heart the righteousness and justice of the court.”

Xiao Jingrui couldn’t stop himself.  “Dage, do you really agree with the things the Crown Prince is doing….”

“Do not speak nonsense, servants do not discuss the actions of their lords.  Father-in-law has already told me, in the matter of the illegal fireworks factory, the Crown Prince was framed.”

Xiao Jingrui knew that his dage valued traditional ideas of chivalry and loyalty, and that it would be exceedingly difficult to change his mind once he had made his decision.  As he was still injured, he did not want to anger him, and so he only lowered his head and answered quietly, “Yes.”

¹Xie Qi is Jingrui’s younger sister (on the Xie side), but she is also his older sister-in-law because she’s married to Zhuo Qingyao (Jingrui’s older brother on the Zhuo side).

Translator’s Notes:

My poor, poor Jingrui.  Oh, you sweet, sweet summer child………winter is coming.

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