The spring rain never seemed to end. Outdoors, it was raining cats and dogs.
However, the house was warm inside. The fire was crackling excitedly. Steam rose up from the medicinal herbs which were being boiled with a ‘glup, glup’ sound.
A young girl was seated in front of a copper mirror. The mirror reflected a thin and slightly pale face. The owner of the face looked sick and languid. Her lips were pressed together like a water chestnut and revealed a delicate but alienated look. The pair of black, watery eyes shaped like apricots looked just like a mountain stream shrouded with mist, which would reveal a magnificent gem when the mist dispersed. Her skin was as white as snow and her facial features were fair and elegant. She was an attractive young lady of sixteen.
Needless to say, she was aware of her own beauty. Different varieties of rouge, gouache, perfumes, and hair balms covered her little dressing table. The whole room reeked of the smell of cheap cosmetics. He Yan wrinkled her nose and couldn’t help but sneeze.
The copper mirror was enveloped with the film of hoarfrost she had exhaled, making the reflection in the mirror a little vague. He Yan was absentminded for a moment as she reminisced the past. She recalled the time she had first removed her male disguise. She had sat in front of the mirror, just as she did now, gazing at her own reflection and feeling like she was looking at a complete stranger.
She knew that she had been drowned in the Xu Family’s pond by the men He Wan Ru had brought, but when she opened her eyes later, she had become He Yan. Not He Yan, the real General Fei Hong and He Ru Fei’s little sister or He Yan, the wife of Xu Zhi Heng. This was He Yan, the daughter of the owner of a dilapidated hut. He Sui, the father of this body’s original owner, was a ninth-grade town gate officer without any duty.
Both had the same name—He Yan, but their statuses were totally different.
“Yan Yan, why didn’t you call me when you woke up?” A hoarse voice was heard as the portiere was lifted. A man walked in, bringing the cold wind in with him.
He Sui was a bearded, middle-aged man. He had dark skin and was square-jawed. He was large, like a bear, clumsy yet strong. His face revealed a fawning smile. When he was reassured that there was no one else in the room, he yelled: “Where the hell is Qing Mei?”
“Qing Mei went to pick herbs.” He Yan answered softly.
The burly man scratched his head and said: “Okay, then let daddy help you pour.”
The white porcelain medicine bowl was smaller than the man’s palm. The man obviously knew that, so he poured the decoction extra carefully. The room was suddenly filled with the medicine’s bitter scent. He Yan looked at the plum blossom pattern at the edge of the bowl, then set her gaze at the man’s face. This was He Yan’s father, the town gate officer, He Sui.
‘Daddy’. To He Yan, this was an unfamiliar word.
Her biological father was He Yuan Liang, the second lord of the He Family, but she called him ‘uncle’ because she had already replaced He Ru Fei at that time. In reality, her adoptive father was He Yuan Sheng, her real uncle.
He Yan was never close with her adoptive father in the first place. It became worse—it wasn’t wrong to say that it even dropped to freezing point the moment she had said that she wanted to learn martial arts. Her adoptive father only started favoring her when she gained name and fame and got praised by the emperor himself. Her adoptive father never knew what she was thinking of and wasn’t even interested in providing her with basic necessities like food and water. He Yan always thought that this was because he wasn’t her actual father, but her real father wasn’t really close to her, either. He Yan came to the conclusion that it was because ‘a daughter who’s already been married off is like spilt water’. As time passed, the little affection that remained between them faded away, and he didn’t bother to even take a look at her.
Her father figure was only a vague memory to her, compared to He Yan’s friends in the army.
He Sui had finished pouring the decoction into the bowl and carefully scooped away the residue floating on top. He blew it gently and brought it towards He Yan’s mouth to feed her.
He Yan took hold of the bowl and said: “I’ll do it myself.”
The man withdrew his hand and said, clearly awkward: “Alright.”
As smoke curled up from the decoction, He Yan stared at it with hesitation. It reminded her of He Wan Ru’s words before she had died.
“The decoction you had drunk that made you blind, was instructed to be sent to you by the elders of your family!”
The elders of the He family. Was it He Yuan Sheng? Or He Yuan Liang? Or someone else? Xu Zhi Heng definitely knew about it, and what about the others?
She recalled the day she was drowned and that cup of tea Xiao Die had given her. Who knew if this was done by someone who harbored evil intentions towards her?
Seeing He Yan holding the bowl without moving, He Sui thought that she wasn’t drinking the medicine as it was too bitter. He coaxed her with a gentle smile: “Don’t be afraid, Yan Yan. It’s not bitter, after drinking it, you will recover at a faster rate.”
He Yan didn’t wait for He Sui to finish his sentence, instead, she moved the bowl close to her mouth, and drank it all in one shot.
“Wait…” He Yan placed the empty bowl on the table before He Sui finished his sentence.
“It’s hot…” He could only continue his sentence after He Yan finished drinking.
“It’s not hot,” He Yan answered tartly.
He Sui didn’t know what to say at that moment. He only moved his mouth and finally exhorted softly:
“Rest well here, don’t be naughty and refrain yourself from running around. Daddy will be heading off to the drill fields now.” Saying this, he took the empty bowl and left.
Only when He Yan was left alone in the room, did she feel relieved. At present, she was a female and more importantly, she was acting like one. She wasn’t a spoiled young lady who had grown under the loving and protective wings of her family. Thus, this little chat had made her feel very uncomfortable.
The maid, Qing Mei, had not yet returned. He Sui didn’t earn much every month. He was just a town gate officer and had no duties assigned to him. He didn’t really have any power either and was barely able to make both ends meet with the salary he earned. The whole household was only supported by He Sui’s salary. A part of it became a maid’s earnings and the rest… it probably was in the form of He Yan’s table of cosmetics.
He Yan stood up, then walked to the door.
Her current body was soft and weak, like corneal ulcer and white jade. To her, this was something she was totally unfamiliar with. She couldn’t protect herself with it. If there was anything useful in this body, it was this pair of clear and bright eyes which helped her to see daylight again.
Thud! He Yan heard something heavy fall. She turned her head and saw a young boy unloading a pile of firewood from his shoulder.
The young boy looked as if he was around the same age as He Yan. He wore azure blue waist clothing and a pair of pants of the same color. He tied his legs with white cloth as it was more convenient for him while working. His skin was slightly dark, and his facial features were a little like He Yan’s, obviously delicate. His chin was slightly narrow, giving him a look filled with patience and determination. He seemed stubborn and arrogant.
This was He Yan’s little brother and He Sui’s youngest child, He Yun Sheng.
He Yun Sheng had visited He Yan a few times when she was bedridden. He came to give her water and move the stove, but he never uttered a word to He Yan. The relationship between these two siblings did not seem to be good, but… He Yan looked at the crudely manufactured and unfitting piece of clothing He Yun Sheng was wearing, then looked at her own clothing—a pink based blue satin skirt… she vaguely understood the situation, but it awed her at the same time.
In her original He Family, women sacrificed themselves for men and these men meant the whole world to them. However, in her present He Family, things took a different turn. They treated their own son as if he was adopted and gave every valuable item to the girl child. What in the world was wrong with this family?
He Yan stood in front of He Yun Sheng and did not move an inch. He Yun Sheng carried the pile of firewood to the eaves, then started chopping.
This family was incredibly poor, thought He Yan. There was only a maid to look after the whole family, and the only son of the family was doing a manservant’s job.
The pile of wood was right in front of He Yan. He Yun Sheng chopped it for a while, then stopped and frowned: “Please give way, you are blocking me.”
He didn’t even want to call her ‘sister’.
He Yan stayed still, neither moving away nor ridiculing him harshly like the original owner of the body always did. He Yun Sheng couldn’t help raising his head, meeting He Yan’s gaze.
“You cannot chop wood like this.” He Yan spoke softly.