GIFTING A STEED
The wind threatened to blow the veil covering her face, making He Yan lower her head. She could hear He Yun Sheng gasping and whispering ‘Chief Commander Xiao!’ beside her.
The sight of the hero he had always worshipped prompted He Yun Sheng to make such a yearning exclamation.
“Chief Commander Xiao, what are you doing in the drill fields?” Zhao gongzi, who had acted so high and mighty in front of He Sui and the others, was merely a dog wagging its tail in front of Chief Commander Xiao. Everyone present could not help but shake in alarm.
“How much does this steed cost?” The young man on the horse asked calmly.
“Ah?” Zhao gongzi was at a loss for words, but he replied honestly: “Thirty taels of silver.”
Chief Commander Xiao raised his chin and peered at Zhao gongzi. The next moment, two pieces of silver ingots flew out of the dark green sachet in his hand and landed on the grass. One of the pieces even bounced off Zhao gongzi’s wrist before landing.
“I’ll buy your horse,” Chief Commander Xiao said, still indifferent.
Zhao gongzi‘s lips trembled. He could not utter a word.
Zhao gongzi had originally wanted to save his face and reprimand the real culprit, but he could not do so in front of Xiao Huai Jin, the second son of the Xiao family. Since he could not afford to provoke him, Zhao gongzi swallowed his evil intentions and smiled: “If you want this horse, I’ll give it to you. You need not pay me.”
“No,” Xiao Jue countered. “Nothing in the world is free.”
He Yan sighed in relief. Xiao Jue and He Yan were both generals. Therefore, they could not bear the sight of such fine steeds being killed in the streets.
Fortunately, the horse had escaped this plight due to Xiao Jue’s timely intervention.
As He Yan was pondering this, He Yun Sheng stepped forward and looked at Xiao Jue with admiration.
He said: “Thank you, General Feng Yun, for saving this horse. I sincerely believe that saving lives is worth more than building a pagoda with seven storeys! You are truly amazing!”
If He Yun Sheng was that eager to talk to his hero, the least he could do was to select the right words.
His words were embarrassing, yet he didn’t look like he would apologize. He instead looked like he would promise to study hard any time soon. He Yan could swear that Xiao Jue was sneering at Yun Sheng in his heart that moment.
Contrary to He Yan’s expectations, Xiao Jue didn’t make any sarcastic remark. Instead, he turned to He Yun Sheng, who was gazing at him with eyes as clear and brilliant as stars. He lightly asked: “Do you like this horse?”
He Yun Sheng took a look at the steed and answered honestly, “I like it.”
“It’s yours now,” He said.
“Thank you… wait!” Needless to say, He Yun Sheng was dumbfounded. He wanted to express his gratitude, but Xiao Jue and the yellow-clad youth beside him had already urged their horses to move forward, obviously not willing to spend any more time there. He chased after them for a while, but returned back, still gazing at their distant backs.
He Yan walked up to him, stretched out her hand, and shook it in front of his eyes. “Are you in your right sense now, dear brother?”
He Yun Sheng withdrew his gaze, turned and said, “Where’s Zhao gongzi?”
“He already left,” He Sui rolled his eyes, seemingly not pleased at the way He Yun Sheng had acted. “While you were busy worshiping Chief Commander Xiao.”
Even though Zhao gongzi had been reluctant to leave, he didn’t dare find trouble with Xiao Jue. He could only take the silver Xiao Jue had given him, and immediately left the place in a huff.
He Yun Sheng walked over to the steed his hero had left him. He gently patted its head as if stroking a possession left by his lover. In a daze, he said: “This was gifted to me by General Feng Yun.”
“Why don’t you build a plaque to commemorate this memory?” He Yan asked, her voice laced with sarcasm.
He Yun Sheng glared at her: “What do you know? If Chief Commander Xiao hadn’t passed by just now, this horse would have been killed by that thug, Zhao! I can first-hand say that Chief Commander Xiao is a chivalrous man. He would go any lengths to defend justice!”
“Stop, stop,” He Yan interrupted him, “Speak about something else, anything other than Chief Commander Xiao’s chivalry!” He Yun Sheng was only a child who was kept in the dark about the dangers of the world. Xiao Huai Jin wasn’t a chivalrous man. He had never been so. That man was ruthless as hell.
“Yan Yan, why did you come wearing a veil?” He Sui, who had not said anything till this point, finally found a chance to speak. “And when did you learn to ride a horse? Dad was really scared to death just now. You can’t be so reckless in the future, okay? If something happens to you, what would I tell your mother in heaven? “
He Sui’s attitude towards both of his children was clearly biased.
“This is a new trend in the capital. Lately, going out with a veil seems to be the fashion trend. It seems mysterious and beautiful.’’ He Yan spouted nonsense with a serious face, “Father, don’t you think this looks good on me?”
He Sui exclaimed: “Good! It looks great! “
He Yun Sheng rolled his eyes. He Yan had come up with such a clumsy excuse and He Sui actually believed it.
He Sui trusted He Yan’s words because he knew nothing about the taste of girls. What he did know was that He Yan always liked to dress up and follow the latest fashion trends. Not to mention, He Sui would never suspect that his arrogant and weak daughter actually went to a gambling house to compete with rough people.
“As for horse-riding, I learned it from my friends. Although I only know a few tricks, I’ll make sure to practice till I attain perfection,” He Yan murmured vaguely.
On the other side, Xiao Jue and the young man in yellow robes were riding their horses outside the academy yard near the drill fields.
“That was an interesting experience.” The youth in yellow said with a smile, “Uncle, did you see the girl secretly tampering the horse? That guy called Zhao fell into a trap so easily. Man, that was truly a sight to behold!”
Xiao Jue listened with an indifferent look on his face.
They were just passing by when this scene had unfolded. The woman mounted on the horse was astonishingly agile. He firmly believed that the man surnamed Zhao could not escape easily by killing the horse even if he hadn’t said anything about it. He was sure that the woman would have made a move first as her hands had almost reached the iron-headed stick on her waist before he intervened.
“It’s a pity she kept her head down; I couldn’t see her face properly.” The young man in yellow said while stroking his chin, “Why don’t we go back now and inquire about her details, maybe we can see what she looks like?”
“Go by yourself.” Xiao Jue remained unmoved.
“That won’t do, she only lowered her head after taking a look at you. She must have been shy because she was shocked to see Uncle’s terrific appearance. I think there are a lot of interesting girls in the capital these days. Previously, we had seen a girl take down a bunch of thugs by herself near Zui Yu Restaurant, and today… a girl riding a horse efficiently at the drill fields near the academy. Of all the good girls in the world, why isn’t there one for me?” The young man in yellow pounded his chest and heaved a long sigh.
Xiao Jue looked at him calmly. “Cheng Li Shu, if you don’t shut up, I’ll send you back to the Cheng household.”
As the two men were chatting, they suddenly came across several people standing near the weapons rack, led by a young man in blue. This guy was thin and his appearance would remind one of a banished immortal. He stood there in front of his aides, with a charming smile on his face. They didn’t know how long he had been standing there, but from the looks of it, he had witnessed the whole situation.
“Isn’t he the fourth son of the Shi Jin Count Manor?” Cheng Li Shu whispered, “Why is he here?”
Xiao Jue did not answer but instead stopped his horse.
Cheng Li Shu greeted with a warm smile: “Isn’t this Brother Zilan1? Why did Brother Zilan come to the academy?”
He was the fourth son of the current Count Shi Jin, Chu Zhao.
“I was just taking a stroll. I happened to come here and did not expect to meet Chief Commander Xiao and Gentleman Cheng here.” Chu Zhao smiled slightly, “Are you also out on a stroll?”
“Naturally. It’s spring time, it wouldn’t do us good if we don’t come out to play.” Cheng Li Shu laughed and muttered, “Although I think it would be more pleasant to go out with a beautiful girl.”
Chu Zhao acted like he didn’t hear it, but his smile remained unchanged.
From the beginning to the end, Xiao Jue hadn’t said a single word to Chu Zhao. He gave him a slight nod and resumed his horse-ride, as though he had only met a stranger.
Once they were out of earshot, a servant grumbled:
“This General Feng Yun is really rude!”
Chu Zhao wasn’t bothered by that in the least. He just shook his head with a smile: “Isn’t this why he is known as Xiao Huai Jin2?” Saying that, he took another look at the empty track. He chuckled lightly, as if he had thought of something interesting.
1 A pet name used for addressing people affectionately.
2 怀瑾握瑜 (huái jǐn wò yú): Xiao Jue’s courtesy name (Huai Jin) comes from the ninth chapter of ‘The Book of Songs,’ an idiom meaning ‘full of fine qualities.’