When the Moon Was Bright
Before going to Xian Chang Hall to study, He Yan always felt that she was pretty good.
After entering the Xian Chang Hall, He Yan had doubts. Did she really take another step forward on her path?
All the students in Xian Chang Hall were children of noble families. Not only were they rich and powerful, but they also had a good family background. It was impossible to compare her family to those who were wealthy or relied on earldoms to live on. If it wasn’t for the fact that He Yuan Liang was a personal friend of her mentor, her mentor wouldn’t have been able to place her down through the back door.
On one hand, He Yan was very happy that she could enter Xian Chang Hall, but on the other hand, she was filled with misery about her daily life in Xian Chang Hall.
There was no reason other than her grades, which were a bit too miserable compared to the other kids there.
The He family had taught her to use men’s etiquette and behaviour on the outside, but she hadn’t learned much about the things inside. When she first arrived at the Xian Chang Hall, she was so ignorant that she was often at the butt of jokes and her tutor couldn’t do anything about it.
If she said her liberal arts were better… It was because she had read and memorized a few more times, and listened attentively during lectures. She could barely get by with an average score. But when it came to martial arts, it was a total failure.
Since He Yan was a child, she had been sneaking off to the back of the mountain to help the monks fetch water to practice her hand strength, and she thought she was decent enough, resulting in her first martial arts screening test in the Xian Chang Hall to become a spectacle.
Be it bow, knife or stones, she wasn’t qualified in any of them. She tried horse riding but fell down, and the arrows missed their target. Even the Instructor shook his head and sighed. The surrounding teenagers pointed at her and laughed. Someone said, “You aren’t a woman, are you? How come you don’t know anything? Are you usually at home learning to do embroidery?”
He Yan panicked and stood up from the ground. Patting the dust off of her body, she thought to herself that if it went on, her identity would be disclosed. If anyone found out her identity, she would be taken back by Madam He and would have to stay at home again. She was not sure if she would be able to do that, but it was better to study and practise hard to stay safely in Xian Chang Hall.
And hence He Yan embarked on the road of “studying hard”.
There was no such thing as chiselling the wall to steal the light, nor was there such a thing as the sacred firefly reflecting the snow, or smelling the rooster and dancing, neither was there such a thing as hanging the beams. He Yan often cursed in her heart while practising calligraphy, horseback riding, archery, and also handling swords.
She tried her best and could only struggle on the edge of her tail. So to her, the proud sons of heaven who could easily get the top spot without having to work hard seemed very dazzling.
Xiao Jue was one of them, and the most annoying one.
This young man was born a prodigy, but with a mind of a mule. He had a superior and refined family and had collected a lot of affection from people. He came to the academy every day but was often late to class. Sometimes he left early and usually didn’t seem to pay much attention to the class. Yet he was always first in both liberal and martial arts.
He Yan was confused. God had already given him the beauty and honourable status, why did he have to give him wisdom too? Couldn’t he give some of it to her?
God didn’t answer He Yan, so she could only make up for her poor qualifications with tears in her eyes.
Gradually, He Yan’s “Sword, Horse, and Bow” began to show results; though not as good as those youths who were accompanied by their parents and brothers to practice since childhood. Sometimes at their practice sessions, she could fight for the third to last place.
He Yan felt satisfied working hard to gain something.
When it was time for Xian Chang Hall martial arts division, which was at the back of the hall to distribute the weapons. He Yan chose a sword among the weapons. That sword, she felt, was lighter than other swords and less strenuous to wield.
However, her swordsmanship was also a mess.
The He family hadn’t hired a martial arts master to teach her in the house alone, so He Yan had no foundation at all, even her horse stance was crooked. The instructors of Xian Chang hall had no hopes for her either. They only watched her and waited to see if she was able to defend herself. What kind of gentleman didn’t bring a few servants with him?
However, He Yan felt that it would not work.
Since she had chosen, she should train her sword well. The students could only go home two days in January and lived the rest of the time in the Xian Chang hall. She sneaked out in the dark at night and went to the courtyard of the academy to practice her sword.
The school was elegantly built. When the moonlight was good, the wind rustled the bamboo groves, the shadow of bamboo shoots and cypresses were cast by the moon and the pond was full of red carp. Experts practised their swords there, waiting for the world to change, and would appear whenever there was chaos.
He Yan was quite happy to practice. If only she ignored her crappy swordsmanship.
Like accidentally chipping off a corner of her clothes, accidentally hitting her head with the sword sheath, accidentally tripping…
She heard a soft chuckle.
In the night, with that inexplicable chuckle, He Yan crawled up nervously. Did she see a ghost?
She saw a person sitting on the stone bench in the small courtyard, wearing a white robe and brocade boots, with bright eyebrows. It was Xiao Jue, the proud son blessed by the heavens.
When Xiao Jue looked down at her, she put her hands behind her back and vigorously wiped the sweat on her clothes. She calmly asked, “What are you doing here?”
“Watching you practice your sword.” The young man replied lazily.
“What… What’s there to see?” She summoned the courage to answer. She had never been fond of talking to the teenagers in Xian Chang Hall. They didn’t like her and were always bullying her.
Xiao Jue looked at her for a moment and suddenly stood up. While she was caught off guard, the boy was already in front of her. She was a girl, born not as tall as a boy, so she could only reach up to the teenager’s chest. She raised her head and could see the other’s clear jawline, and those beautiful, gentle, slightly cool eyes like autumn water.
“It was just a coincidence.” The young man gently curled the corners of his lips. He was born with a heroic and beautiful appearance. With a smile, he was comparable to the cool night of the whole courtyard which was more moving than the moonlight. However, the words he uttered were ironic, “Someone is making so much effort but is still a weak chicken.”
He Yan, “…”
She shook Xiao Jue, picked up the sword, and ran away; her heart indignant. The heavens were fair. Giving that young man beauty, talent, and family background, but not a good heart.
That person, she hated him!
After that, He Yan still sneaked out to the courtyard every night to practice her sword, thinking that hard work made up for her clumsiness and effort was better than lack of it.
But what made her angry was that Xiao Jue had followed her every night since that day. While she practised, he sat on a stone bench and read a book by candlelight. And while she fell face down and cut several pieces of her clothes, he watched her make a fool of herself with grace and elegance.
While she was still trying to work hard to maintain the sprint away from the bottom, the other person didn’t make any effort and was still top-notch.
The one working hard still worked hard, the one relaxing still relaxed. Spring and autumn came and left, as did winter and summer. The teenager had grown into a youth, the girl’s face changed. The only thing that remained unchanged was the night sky in the Xian Chang Hall and the crescent moon in the backyard at the end of the bamboo shoots.
 Chiselling the wall to steal the light: Literally, it means that one works hard to bore a hole and steal some light from it’s neighbour. Which signifies a person with limited resources, or suffering from poverty, trying very hard to achieve success.
 Sacred firefly reflecting the snow: Snow reflects the light from teenie-tiny fireflies. This term is generally used to describe how a person, despite their miserable condition, works hard. It implies the spirit of hard work.
 Smelling the rooster and dancing: Literally, it refers to rising even before rooster crows to practice dancing. Indicates the hard work a person put into a certain activity.
 Hanging the beams: refers to practice of tying one’s hair on the house beam and jabbing one’s side with an awl(tool/weapon used to poke holes) to keep oneself awake. Reflects the efforts someone put into doing something; a person’s diligence.