It was the first year of the Shengli1 era, the day after New Year’s Eve, and it was snowing heavily.
Buddhist pagodas of different sizes stood unevenly amidst the snow and mist.
Luoyang appeared like a land for immortals overnight.
As soon as Ming Huashang raised her head, she could see the golden phoenix entering the clouds from the top of the Vientiane Shrine.
Even while shrouded by the thick mist, and heavy snow, none of this could hide the phoenix’s spirit and its fluttering wings which desired to fly.
Ming Huashang withdrew her gaze and sneezed due to the cold.
Zhaocai was the same as usual, prattling endlessly to her, “Miss, it’s fine that you like to sleep in, but today is the day to greet the Old Madam.
How could you dare to sleep in like usual today as well?”
A bright red cloak covered Ming Huashang from head to toe, and the cloak was trimmed with rabbit fur.
The fine and soft fur collar covered most of her face making her voice indistinct.
Zhaocai thought she heard the girl say something, but when she looked back, that face, which was more delicate and beautiful than new year’s paintings, was buried in the white fur.
It didn’t look like she was talking.
She thought, perhaps it was because the wind outside was too strong, so she misheard.
She continued to talk to Ming Huashang like normal, “Miss, you can’t be so undisciplined anymore.
You are the eldest di2 daughter of our duke manor’s main branch3, the legitimate daughter of the Imperial Duke4 Zhen.
I know you never cared before and no one dares to chide you, but after the New Year, you will be sixteen.
It’ll be time to arrange your marriage.
Madam left early, so your marriage will have to be arranged by the Old Madam.
If you don’t try to warm up to her, how can the Old Madam think of you?”
From greetings to the topic of marriage, it was like Zhaocai opened a chatterbox, filled with never-ending long-winded prattle.
First, she weighed some prospective young masters of Luoyang who have yet to begin marriage talks then especially emphasized Ming Huashang’s superior family background, and finally concluded, “Miss, although you never tried to be the best in anything and have always been too lazy to compete for recognition in the four arts5, but with the Duke manor and second young master by your side, you’re guaranteed to have a good marriage.”
Zhaocai really deserved to be her maid.
She could embellish both the good and the bad in such a nice way.
There were herds of aristocratic families in Shendu6, dukes and marquises all around, and there was especially no shortage of well-bred noble family daughters.
Ming Huashang never competed for a reputation in the four arts; was it really because she didn’t want to?
After weighing the odds, even her most biased maid knew that Ming Huashang’s only advantage was her family background, which proved just how authentic a salted fish7 Ming Huashang was.
Ming Huashang sighed again.
Even Zhaocai had more initiative than herself, which made Ming Huashang feel a tiny bit ashamed.
Of course, she wasn’t ashamed about not working hard, but from the guilt that she was probably going to let Zhaocai down.
Because she didn’t even have the family background advantage anymore.
Ming Huashang woke up late today, not entirely because she wanted to snooze, but because of a nightmare, she had last night.
In that dream, a slender and beautiful woman with a temperament like an orchid came to the Ming family claiming that she was the real daughter of the Ming family.
Along with her claim, she presented physical evidence.
After a period of turmoil, her father, Duke Zhen came over from the back courtyard.
It looked like he had found the answer after an investigation, and emotionlessly described a series of events from the past.
That year, Wang Yulan, the official wife of Duke Zhen, gave birth to a pair of rare fraternal twins.
The elder brother was named Ming Huazhang, and the younger sister was named Ming Huashang.
Unfortunately, Wang Yulan collapsed from excessive bleeding post-birth and passed out before she could even see the children.
This gave an evil servant a chance to cause trouble.
When Duke Zhen named the children, he didn’t know that the younger sister of the fraternal twins had been switched.
This evil servant happened to be Wang Yulan’s wetnurse, Su-shi8.
Everyone from the inner courtyard had to respectfully call her momo9 Su.
Although momo Su was a noble family’s servant, in fact, she owned land in the countryside, so she had some personal wealth.
However, this bit of family property was nothing in comparison to the Duke manor.
It just so happened that momo Su’s daughter-in-law gave birth to a daughter; she was stealthy and secretly swapped the two children.
She let Ming Huashang, who was supposed to be the daughter of a common farmer, enjoy seventeen years of wealth and honor in Luoyang, while the real daughter of the Duke manor lived among the commoners, settled down in the countryside, and became a servant’s granddaughter, Su Yuji.
Seventeen years later, Su Yuji, a girl raised by a common farmer, yet still grew up to become outstanding, found out the truth and went to the door of the Ming family herself.
Only then did Duke Zhen learn that the di young miss who had lived with him for seventeen years was a fake.
T/N: Since this novel is set in a real period of ancient China, loosely follows that period’s timeline of events, and even uses real historical figures, I thought it would be worthwhile to try and explain how some of these events and people were significant and a little bit of their history in the footnotes.
Also, I’ll do a daily release for all the parts of Chapter 1, so stay tuned.
圣历 (sheng li): December 20, 697 – May 26, 700.
This was Wu Zetian’s tenth-era title after she proclaimed herself emperor.
She was the only female sovereign in the history of China to be widely regarded as legitimate and to take on the title huangdi (emperor) which has always been reserved for men. 嫡(di): status for children born from the legal wife.
In contrast with 庶 shu children that are born from concubines; di children got priority in all matters, including succession When a family’s patriarch and matriarch passes away it is customary for the sons to separate into their own independent houses (along with their own family); each son (regardless of whether they’re di or shu) is the head of his own branch.
The eldest son is the main branch, the second eldest is the second branch, the third eldest is the third branch, etc..
Generally, the main branch head is the di eldest son and will inherit the title. 国公 (Imperial Duke) is the highest ranking title among the 5 aristocratic peerage ranks; it is awarded to generals or high-level civil officials and is different from 民公 (Commoner Duke) who generally lack any real political power.
I will use Imperial Duke and Duke interchangeably throughout my translations. i.e.
1) zither 2) chess/go 3) calligraphy and 4) painting 神都 “the capital of gods” or “divine capital”: the official name of Luoyang during the Zhou Wu dynasty.
Empress Wu Zetian made Luoyang her capital; Luoyang was formerly known as the Eastern Capital before she renamed it to the capital of gods during her reign For those who don’t know, “salted fish” (咸鱼) is often used to describe those who have no great achievements.
In particular, those who joke about themselves as “salted fish” are also aware of their mediocrity. 氏 “shi” means surname, so Su-shi basically means “the one surnamed Su”; this way of denoting will occur more often throughout the novel 嬷嬷 (momo): a special appellation for elder maids
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