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He Yun Sheng’s mind could not stop dwelling on the last words He Yan had told him.
“Yun Sheng, don’t you want to go to school?”
Of course, he desperately wanted to attend school. The academy had scholars and martial arts instructors, and he could study together with his fellow students. You could rely on yourself to build a stable career through exams, scholarships and physical examinations. On the other hand, haphazardly trying your luck without any preparation could result in dreadful consequences.
In the past, his family had been poor and famished, but now they had money. The repressed aspirations buried at the bottom of Yun Sheng’s heart gradually surfaced.
He glanced secretly at the young woman walking beside him. He Yan…. ever since He Yan had recovered, he felt as if many things had drastically improved within the family. He no longer felt as heavy as the treading deep, stagnant water. At some unknown time, a light breeze had swept over the water, creating ripples, such that the old-fashioned attitudes were cleared away, replaced by all the colors of spring.
It was spring time.
He Yan took notice of his penetrating gaze, and suddenly held her veil to her face. She warned once again, “We’ve already agreed to not expose anything until we meet father, understand?”
“…Fine.” He Yun Sheng replied.
He Yan had never once visited the open fields at the military grounds’ East End City Gate. Once she had left the military to return to the capital, He Ru Fei substituted her. Afterwards, she could never attend any ‘General Fei Hong’-related activities. He Yan could only occasionally pass by when she accompanied Xu great-grandmother on her walks. At those times, she had felt so much yearning.
The capital’s military grounds were still very large. The flag was waving in the wind, and sometimes a general officer would scold his soldiers. Since this year was peaceful and prosperous, the grounds had practically turned into an equestrian archery playground for the sons of rich nobles. There were arrows and weaponry scattered everywhere, blocking one’s field of vision.
As soon as He Yan arrived there, she couldn’t avert her eyes.
In the past, He Yan had a double-edged sword of white-green jade hue with an edge that cut through iron like butter. It was by her side throughout wars and battles for many years, but when she had married into the Xu family, she didn’t bring it with her, and she deeply missed it immediately.
He Yuan Sheng (He Yan’s adoptive father) had told her: “The Xu family has a scholarly reputation, if you bring your sword there, your husband and in-laws would not be pleased.”
Her own father He Yuan Liang was concerned, and pointed out to her, “To do that is to invite misfortune.”
So she had reluctantly left her jade sword at home, and asked her family to safeguard it well. But when she first returned home after her marriage, the jade sword was hanging from He Ru Fei’s waist.
She questioned He Ru Fei, yet when He Ru Fei hadn’t even spoken, He Yuan Sheng intervened, “Ru Fei is now General Fei Hong. If his sword isn’t with him, others will doubt him!”
“That’s right, that’s right. At any rate, you won’t be able to use it in the future,” He Yuan Liang chimed in.
It was as if her cheerful mood was entirely washed over by cold water, from her head to her feet. At that time, she finally became aware of the significance of her marriage, of the significance of giving away the title of General Fei Hong. It meant that from here on out, she’d be like the great-grandmother of the Xu family and the first wife of the second branch of the He family—she’d stay at home taking care of domestic duties, supporting her husband in a harmonious marriage. Those swords, warhorses, soldiers, and liberty, the blood-filled triumphs and accomplishments of war, all were subserviently forfeited to another person.
Besides, no one understood her feelings.
First it was her jade sword, then it was her warhorse, and after that her troops, everything which belonged to her were taken away, one by one. Her past ten years of laborious work, all to become a wedding dress by Xu Zhi Heng’s side.
She was devoid of everything.
He Yun Sheng asked, “Hey, what’s up with you? You don’t look so good.”
He Yan, momentarily lost for words, cleared her mind, smiled and said, “Nothing’s wrong.” She looked around her. “How come we haven’t seen father?”
“They seem to be over there.” He Yun Sheng pointed to the other side of the track. “Probably horse training.”
There were frequently new fleets of horses brought to the military grounds, and some had an unruly temper that refused command, so they needed to be trained for a while. Nowadays, the city gate’s officers were of low competence. It could be said that their skill levels were essentially on par with the sparring partners of the rich sons of nobles that came to the grounds to practice equestrian archery.
“Let’s go over there…” He Yun Sheng said.
He Yan nodded, but suddenly stopped walking. She took an iron-headed rod from the upper shelves of a weapon rack in her hands.
He Yun Sheng asked, “What are you gonna do with that?”
“Just getting the feel of it,” He Yan replied. “Let’s go.”
He Yun Sheng was speechless. The two walked towards the track by the stables, but when they were not yet close, they suddenly heard a clamour. The two looked over, and two horses swept past them. On one horse sat a well-dressed gentleman, and on the other sat a person similar to a black bear: he was tanned and built robustly. Who was that person beside He Sui?
Who was He Sui horse racing with?
“The Childe is so strong!” The faces of the pages sitting by the side were filled with delight. “Three rounds already, and he’s won every one of them!”
It’s already been three rounds? He Yan glanced around and didn’t see anything serious. Upon this impression, she only raised her eyebrows.
The horse beneath He Sui probably hadn’t yet been able to go through training yet, upon a look one could tell it had a wild nature and was difficult to domesticate. Its footsteps were particularly uneven; He Sui was clearly managing his balance while riding this horse. That well-dressed childe was intentionally using his own horse to knock into He Sui’s horse, so much so that He Yan noticed it right away. His horsewhip hit the rear of He Sui’s horse.
The horse leaped about wildly, and practically threw down He Sui. He Yun Sheng shouted out, “Dad!” He was getting anxious.
The finely clothed gentleman just laughed.
Just as this round finished, He Sui stopped his horse, albeit also with much difficulty, as it was struggling in its place for a while before quieting down.
The gentleman had already been helped down from his horse by others, and proudly said, “He Xiao Wei’s skill is still lacking, he can’t even train a single horse. But you’ve improved compared to the previous match. At least you haven’t fallen and gotten kicked by the horse.”
Falling? Getting kicked?
He Yan looked over at He Sui, yet she saw a face dripping with sweat, swollen and battered with a bloody nose, with a horseshoe imprint on his shirt, evidently his fall wasn’t light. This guy… she couldn’t help but feel a little angry.
The gentleman delightedly threw out a silver coin, “Not bad, not bad, this young master is very happy. This is a reward for you.”
The silver coin fell to the ground, despite being watched by everyone, He Sui bent over to pick it up. He cheerfully expressed his gratitude, “Thank you very much, Zhao gongzi.”
Never before having seen his father’s meek side, He Yun Sheng blew up in fury and cried out, “What are you giving thanks for, haven’t you seen how he played you?”
“Yun Sheng?” He Sui just had just noticed He Yan and He Yun Sheng. He asked, “Yan Yan, how did you guys get here?”
“Who’s this fellow?” asked Zhao gongzi.
“He is this son of this dog, Yun Sheng.” He Sui apologetically smiled.
“Oh— ,” Zhao gongzi replied, “Your son seems to have quite the uncooperative attitude towards me.”
“For that kind of matter? This kid is not sensible.” He Sui knuckled He Yun Sheng’s head. “Hurry and say sorry to Zhao gongzi.”
“I don’t— ” He Yun Sheng snapped. This Zhao gongzi was clearly humiliating He Sui, but He Sui, as a man of lower class played along. But why? In any case, as low as He Sui’s skill could be, he was still an official, not the Zhao household’s servant, so why should he be humiliated this way?
He Yun Sheng held his head high, refusing to lower it.
Zhao gongzi glanced at him, and an interesting idea seemed to come to him. “How about this, I was going to let your dad go against me in another match, but now I have an idea. You and me can have a match. This young master will bestow you a silver coin.” He held out his hand, and a servant handed over a silver coin.
“Out of the question!” He Sui, alarmed, instantly replied, and immediately bent down: “Yun Sheng has never touched a horse, I can still practice with the gentleman.”
Although He Sui normally favored He Yan, it didn’t that mean he didn’t love his son. This Zhao gongzi wasn’t a good person. Despite this rich family’s son’s humiliating acts, He Sui had already been well-experienced in them, and didn’t care about this.
At He Yun Sheng’s age, he should be trained at an academy. As for He Yan, He Sui had to save up a dowry for her. If she wanted to marry into a rich family, she had to bring along money. But he didn’t have any other means besides offering his strength, so he could only flatter these young masters and make them happy, thus earning silver.
Unexpectedly, today his pitiful appearance in a difficult situation had been seen by his son and daughter. He Sui’s heart felt shame and sorrow.
Yun Sheng truly had a youthful valor, and couldn’t accept these humiliations, but he didn’t know of Zhao gongzi’s dangerous character. If he seriously intended to race horses with Zhao gongzi today, it would be a wonder if he had half his life left afterwards. One had to understand, this horse was one that was just brought today, and it hadn’t even been trained once, let alone race this horse, simply riding it was far from easy.
He couldn’t let an accident happen to his son.
“I’ll practice with you.” He Sui placidly said with a smile.
“That wouldn’t be okay.” Zhao gongzi shook his head. “I want him.”
He Sui’s smile froze.
During this deadlock, suddenly someone spoke up. A sharp and clear sound broke the silence.
“How about I race with you for one round?”
Everyone turned their heads to look, that person who was silent before had suddenly spoken. The young woman’s presence was noticed only then. She was wearing a light short-sleeved jacket with lotus embroidery. There was a gown inside, and a scarlet skirt. Her face, elegant and supple, was covered with a white veil, only showing a pair of graceful, moon-shaped eyes.
“And who are you?” asked Zhao gongzi.
“I,” the young woman slightly nodded her head, “am only one who has been trained in horsemanship.”