It was the name that was on Xu Suyins every breath.
It was the very name of the man that the townsfolk labelled as raitor.
It was the name of the man she both hated… and respected. Because of that one name, she, her mother, and her grandmother Fang had to frequently move. Because of that name, she was frequently taunted and bullied by other townsfolk.
While other young girls were able to sit onto of their fathers shoulders with happiness, she could only wonder if her father would do the same with her.
Before she went to school, she would always look up to her father with absolute admiration and respect. Her mother, Xu Suyin, made it seem as though her father was the most valiant, handsome man in the entire world. He was a man who only knew how to love and nothing else. He was a man who was patriotic and would do anything for the kingdom. And, according to Xu Siyan, he was a man who would shower his daughter with more love than she could ever imagine.
It was enough to hook her childhood self.
Every time, she would excitedly ask her mother to tell her another story about her father. To tell her about the escapades both of them had during their youth.
Every time they visit the temple with the Sanxing deities, her wish would always been the same.
”I wish I could meet my father! ”
Her obsession for her father knew no bounds. Instead of grabbing a single incense stick for each of the deities, she would grab thirty incense sticks–as if lighting more incense sticks would help the Sanxing deities to recognize her wish. The sweets that they would offer would always have extra sweetness just so the Sanxing deities recognized how important her wish was.
But then, she went to school.
For the first time, she heard conflicting information about her father. They said he was a traitor. They said he was a bad man. They said he deserved his shameful death.
It confused her, startled her even.
She genuinely wondered who had the ”proper ” account of Jiang Donghai.
The diaries her mother stored away in her little trunk held to the truth her mother had told her. The old letters her father wrote seemed to be a stark contrast to what was written in the historical accounts. He only ever spoke about helping other people.
Even the large sum of money he won after returning victorious from battle was returned to the people… he married her mother without a cent of dowry. Instead, he was the one to save up and gift her mother a luxurious palanquin which she rode to their wedding. He was the one to buy all of her mothers clothes after the wedding.
”Yue-er, ” her mother whispered softly.
The young girl turned to her mother, her heart slowly melting as she saw her mothers sweet, heart-warming smile. Despite being a very good-looking woman, Xu Suyin refused to marry again. Instead, she continued to live with Granny Fang, helping her collect herbs for Granny Fangs prescriptions, and then spending the evening teaching Jiang Yingyue about poetry, music, and civics.
Even though Jiang Yingyue lived frugally, she was poised and elegant.
”Yes, mother, ” she smiled while showing off her dimple.
When she was much, much younger, her mother used to tickle her and quickly steal a kiss whenever the dimple appeared, so Jiang Yingyue made sure to smile as much as she could in front of her mother.
”Remember to make a wish, ” her mother handed her the incense sticks.
After Jiang Donghais death, Xu Suyin was at loss as to how she would continue living in this world. But, the moment she met Jiang Yingyue, she was finally at peace.
Jiang Yingyue took the incense sticks as she turned the sticks in a clockwise manner for three times. As she gracefully bowed down, her pinky finger quivered slightly.
Xu Suyin did her best to hide her smile.
Her naughty little daughter was so much like Jiang Donghai.
Her lover never believed in the deities. Every time she brought him over to a temple, he would roll his eyes and tell her the old, statues had as much power as a stone you would find on the road. Yet, despite all his grumblings, he would go to the temples with her and perform all the rites and rituals.
But, when it came time for him to make a wish, he would just scoff at the deities and tell them he doesn believe in a single one of them.
When Xu Suyin found out what he had been doing, she was absolutely aghast with horror. For her, the deities meant everything. They supported and helped her through her toughest times. For Jiang Donghai to blatantly disrespect her family like that crushed her.
She stopped talking to Jiang Donghai for almost a month.
But now, all those squabbles seemed silly to her.
As she saw her daughters quivering pinky finger, she bowed down before the Sanxing deities.
I apologize for my daughters words, but you must find her thoughts similar to my husbands. After all, his pinky quivered in the same manner whenever he listed out reasons for why you were not real.
Xu Suyin smiled as she thought back to her daughters smile.
Jiang Yingyue was the splitting image of the young boy she fell in love with. From her basic mannerisms to the way she styled herself everyday.
Theres nothing more I wish in this life than my daughters happiness. You have already granted me the greatest blessing by giving me Jiang Yingyue. Please don be hurt by her thoughts. The next time I come to the temple, Ill be sure to offer more sweets.
While Xu Suyin was busy praying, Jiang Yingyue was scoffing at all the Sanxing deities.
My poor mother actually thinks you will help her. How unfortunate she is…
Jiang Yingyue opened her eyes, eyeing the platter of sweets her mother had made just a few moments before. She glanced to the side, making sure her mother was fully immersed in her prayers.
Since all of your are just carved out stones, theres no need for any of you to really eat some food, right? One day, when I really meet my father, Ill shave my head!
She knew the wish was impossible for those stone statues to fulfill, so with a Cheshire cat grin, she carefully reached out for the green bean cake on the platter.
Xu Suyin opened one of her eyes with a smirk as she saw her daughters little fingers stained with the crumbs of the green bean cake. Ever since she caught onto her daughter stealing some of the sweets on the platter, Xu Suyin ensured there was more food. That way, Jiang Yingyue could eat to her hearts content, and the deities could still get their offerings.
”Yue-er, ” Xu Suyin teased.
Jiang Yingyues body became stiff as she quickly swallowed whatever was left in her mouth. Gently clearing her throat, she muttered, ”Y-yes mother? ” she put her hands behind her dress as she wiped her fingertips against the soft material. Before her mother washed her clothes, she would just have to take back the clothing and wash the stains off herself.
”Should we go back home? ”
Jiang Yingyues wide eyes glanced up at her mother, wondering if she was able to recognize what had just transpired. Luckily, Xu Suyin just stared at her lovingly. With a bubbly smile, Jiang Yingyue attached herself onto Xu Suyins thigh, ”Yes! ” she puffed out with happiness.
She never liked being in the temple, so she was looking forward to going back home and ”lovingly ” bothering her Granny Fang. That old woman never liked her much, but that made Jiang Yingyue even more attached to her grandmother.
She already had plans of all the mischievous things she would do today to annoy her cranky grandmother.
”After you spend time with Granny Fang, we need to sit down and review your sewing techniques, alright? ” Xu Suyin gently ran her fingers through Jiang Yingyues silky hair.
Though she knew it would be difficult for her daughter to marry as a first wife with her fathers reputation, Xu Suyin genuinely hoped Jiang Yingyue would marry a nice, humble man who could love her sincerely. She taught her daughter everything she knew, and luckily for her, Jiang Yingyue was able to soak up all her teachings within moments.
Even though she was only eight years old, she was precocious and willing to learn. Just two years back, Granny Fang had been telling her how eager Jiang Yingyue was in learning how to manage account books and business. Now, her sweet daughter was doing all she could to take the burden off Granny Fangs shoulders by helping to sit at the clinic.
”Jiang Yingyue, I know you are still young, but, I think we should go out into the market to buy you some new clothes, ” Xu Suyin gently whispered.
Though her child was very much still a baby, it would be important for her to dress well. Especially since shell have to start looking into eligible families for her daughter to marry into in just four short years.
”Alright, mother, ” Jiang Yingyue nodded, not knowing what her mother was planning.
As they walked through the streets, Jiang Yingyue couldn help but admire all the candied treats and bean pastries that were being sold. Though she just had a green bean cake, her mouth couldn help but water as she saw the steam rising from the sesame buns. Her fingers grasped onto her mothers hand as a soft grumble erupted in her stomach.
No, Jiang Yingyue…
Xu Suyin raised her brow. With a shake of her head, she pulled Jiang Yingyue over to a stall that had hair accessories, ”Since well be buying you a few new dresses, why don we look into buying your some trinkets? ”
Xu Suyin picked up a silver hairpin with simple flowery designs and beadwork. Though it was simple, it contrasted well in Jiang Yingyues hair. The pink flowers brought out the faint blush on her childs face, and for a split second, she saw an image of her former maid Lanying. Lanying had also liked similar styles of hairpins.
Her smile wavered for a brief second.
After escaping the capital, she was too scared to inquire about Lanyings health herself. If her family were to catch onto her, they might drag her back home and hurt her daughter as a form of retribution. So, she could only obtain details through Granny Fang whenever she ventured into the capital.
The last she heard, Lanying fully established herself in the Chang family household after she gave birth to Chang Shunyuans first born son. Though she was a servant, she rose up, above all the concubines, and with Chang Shunyuans protection, she had been living a safe and comfortable life.
But, Lanying also was homebound, never appearing before society despite being the official Chang madam. Rumors claimed it was because she was very sick or because she died giving childbirth.
”Do you not like the hairpin, mother? ” Jiang Yingyue asked softly as she peered up at her mother. She had witnessed how pleased her mother was with the hairpin, but immediately after, a wave of distraught passed through her. Jiang Yingyue gently took her mothers hand and squeezed it, ”Mother, I think father would also love this hairpin as well, ” she knew her mother well enough. If Xu Suyin wasn thinking about her, she was thinking about Jiang Donghai.
Xu Suyin shook her head as she placed the blush hairpin on the stand. She turned to the stall owner, ”Could we possibly see hairpins that are green in color? ”
The stall owner nodded his head.
Though Xu Suyin and her daughter had a hard time adjusting in the town due to all the rumors, the townsfolk slowly began to accept them after seeing Xu Suyins kindness and Jiang Yingyues naughtiness. At times, there would still be bullying. But, it was nothing Xu Suyin or Jiang Yingyue couldn handle themselves.
The stall owner pulled out a display box of green colored hairpins as Jiang Yingyue stared at them with wide eyes.
Patting her daughters head gently, Xu Suyin leaned down to whisper, ”You keep looking at the hairpins, okay? Mother will be back after taking care of a few things. ”
Jiang Yingyue nodded her head distractedly. She glanced up at the stall owner showing off her cute smile, ”Could I see this hairpin? ” she pointed to a hairpin with green jade in the shape of small flowers.
There was gold embellishment on it, giving the hairpin a luxurious appearance. But, what really caught her eye was the crescent moon shaped white jade overlying the golden green flowers. Pink jade, in the shape of crystals, dangled off the flowers, creating a youthful appearance.
”Wow, ” Jiang Yingyue muttered as she held the hairpin in her hands. Though her name was Yue-er, it was the perfect present for her mother. Especially since Jiang Yingyue heard her mothers sobs a few nights ago when the thought of marriage was brought up.
I will always be mothers beautiful little girl, but, I hope this hairpin reassures you that I will forever be on your side.
Since she learned how to manage the account books, Granny Fang began teaching her how to manage a business. Just before her seventh birthday, her old grandmother had gifted her a couple of coins to invest. And just like the child she is, she invested in the fragrance industry. Every day, whenever she was with her mother collecting herbs for Granny Fang, Jiang Yingyue would collect beautiful, fragrant flowers and sell them to the perfumers in the town.
Though it was just a meager amount, that money was enough for her to buy treats for her family and invest in other modes of income. Her most lucrative source of income was becoming an investor in the transportation industry. The majority of the money she saved in one year was returned to her in a single month! Granny Fang was so proud of her.
”How much is it, Ge? ” though she was growing older every day, her voice was still that of a childs which frustrated her to no end.
Those investors at the transportation meeting all patted her head cutely as she invested in the shipping industry instead of the road networks. Even though they saw her as a child, they clearly were more than greedy to accept payment from a child. If it weren for her grandmother banging on the doors and slapping some of the more obtuse members heads, she wouldve lost out on all that money!
Jiang Yingyue stood on her toes, doing all she could to appear taller.
”This is twelve silver coins, ” the merchant began to sort the hairpins in his box, paying minimal attention to Jiang Yingyue as her lower lip curled out in frustration. He was well aware that the child and the mother couldn afford the pin seeing how theyd dressed, but he thought he would humor them nonetheless.
I thought this hairpin would be worth more!
Jiang Yingyue smiled, nonetheless, as she reached into the small velvet pouch her mother had given her on her eighth birthday. Pulling out twelve silver coins, she smiled at the merchants aghast expression, ”Thank you, Ge! ”
Before she could turn around and leave with the hairpin, the merchants mouth dropped open, ”L-little girl, how could you–?!? ”
Jiang Yingyue smirked as she flicked the hair on her shoulder. While her mother believes she is a fast learner, she knew the truth. When dealing with business, it was all about intuition. The roads were built for a long, long time. Investing in new roads being built wouldn change the total time it took to transport goods. But investing in the shipping industry, especially since they were so close to the seaports, could drastically change how the kingdom viewed transportation.
It was a huge risk to put all her money… but at the same time, she wasn pressed for money like others. If she lost money, it would be okay. She would just have to work harder and harder.
”A-are you the legendary little heiress? ” the merchant asked incredulously.
Ever since the original ship set to sail to the capital returned in a record two weeks time, everyone tried their best to invest in the shipping industry. But, investors were steadfast in keeping their pool only limited to the original investors.
What made the townsfolk so surprised and shocked was that ”Miss Haiyin ” was all but an eight year old young girl. They all thought she was just lucky, but the young girl formed solid income from her investments, and now many madams from prominent families wanted the little miss to join their families.
Jiang Yingyue smiled as she pocketed the hairpin.
Who would have known… the merchant quietly thought as he observed the young girl before him. Just a few years back, she was seen as the traitors daughter. But, knowing Granny Fangs respectable name and Xu Suyins kindness, people just pitied her for being her fathers daughter. The silly Jiang Yingyue… she is… much more smart than wed originally imagined.
Jiang Yingyue turned with a wide smile as she hugged onto her mothers skirts.
Xu Suyin held onto her daughters cheek gently, ”Were you able to pick anything for yourself, my Yue-er? ”
Jiang Yingyue shook her head, ”I think we need to come back tomorrow, ” she mentioned with a matter of fact. I hope, ” Jiang Yingyue glanced down at the ground sheepishly, ”thats alright for mother. I don want to waste any of your time. ”
When the merchant curiously peered over in her direction after seeing what he thought was rather terrible acting, Jiang Yingyue glared at him.
Xu Suyin smiled and squeezed her daughters soft cheek, not minding how petulant and sticky her daughter was being. She leaned down, ”Thats alright my love. But, ” Xu Suyins eyes sparkled with joy, ”if you promise to give me a kiss on the cheek, I might give you a special surprise. ”
Jiang Yingyue always loved her mothers sweet surprises, but more than anything else, she always loved showering her mother in love. Without a seconds delay, she leaned over, packing as much power as she could into kissing her mothers cheek.
Xu Suyin laughed with glee as she tightly wrapped her arounds around her daughter, relishing in her daughters soft warmth.
”Whats the present, mother?! ” Jiang Yingyue gleefully asked as she tried to see if her mother had anything hidden behind her arms. Her small little actions tickled Xu Suyin, but Jiang Yingyue was more focused on the prize, ”Mother, ” she whined.
”Well, why don you close your eyes? ” Xu Suyin whispered as she slowly watched her daughter close her eyes.
Xu Suyin reached for the paper bag that was hidden in her satchel. The general sounds from the townsfolk going on about their day dampened the sounds of the crinkling. But despite her wanting to hide the surprise, Jiang Yingyues eyes opened immediately as the savory flavors emanated to her nose.
”You were supposed to close your eyes! ” Xu Suyin puffed out as she gently tapped her daughters forehead in frustration.
Jiang Yingyue just hugged her mothers leg tightly, ”Thank you mother!! ” she exclaimed multiple times. She didn hope for her mother to buy the pastries. Especially since her mother distasted her eating too much street food. But considering how kind her mother was being today, she wondered if something special was going to happen.
”Mother, ” Jiang Yingyue softly asked as they were going back home, ”Is something special happening? ” The dresses, the accessories, the pastries… the more she thought about it, the more she realized that something monumental was happening and that her mother was just hiding it from her temporarily.
Xu Suyin shook her head, ”Nothing special is happening. ”
Jiang Yingyue frowned, ”Then… ” she murmured as she thought back to all the celebrations they usually have. It wasn her birthday. Her mothers birthday just passed a few weeks ago, and it certainly wasn her grandmothers birthday since that old woman refused to let them celebrate her special day.
She bit her lower lip, trying to link together all of the things that had been happening since the morning. She was doing well in her studies, so it likely was not related to that. They had already celebrated the victory she had from making those investments, so it wasn related to that. Her fathers death anniversary had passed as well…
Her eyes brightened with joy. Though she had been asking for a cat for months now, she didn think today would be the day,
”Oh, I know! We
e going to be getting–, ”
Her mother stopped in her tracks, pulling Jiang Yingyue back. As Jiang Yingyue collided into her mothers legs, she couldn help but look up with worry. Her mother was usually composed. But now, it was as if fear had struck every point of her body.
”Xu Zihao… ” she muttered as her eyes glanced down to the ground.
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