Chapter 1 Female General
In the sixty-third year of the Da Wei Qing Yuan era, in the third month of spring, a light drizzle covered the city. The fresh greenery inside the city was enveloped in a layer of mist, and the gentle rain moistened the earth.
In the residence of the Xu family in the capital, the tiles on the roofs glistened with rainwater, emitting a uniform radiance. These were special half-moon tiles imported from Yunzhou. It was said that during moonlit nights, the moonlight would settle on the roofs like fireflies taking residence. The process of making these tiles was complex, and their price was far from ordinary. A roof filled with these tiles would represent the hard work of an average family for decades.
However, the Xu family of the capital was involved in the silk trade, spreading their business throughout the country. To them, the cost of a roof full of tiles was like a drop in the ocean. Lord Xu was the current Grand Tutor to the Crown Prince, and he had two sons. The elder son, Xu Zhiheng, was already a young and esteemed Hanlin scholar, a subject of admiration among the people of the capital. Xu Zhiheng was also married; at the age of eighteen, he married the legitimate daughter of the Second Master from the prominent He family, He Yan. The First Master of the He Family’s eldest son, He Rufei, held the title of “Flying Phoenix General” bestowed by the current Emperor, making this marriage a perfect match in both literary and martial aspects.
“Madam, what do you need?” A delicate, flower-like maidservant in a thin dress brought a cup of hot tea and said crisply.
“I’ll go for a walk outside,” replied He Yan, as she finished the tea in one sip.
“But it’s raining outside…”
“It’s alright, I’ll take an umbrella.”
The maid looked at the young woman in front of her. The Xu family was known for its scholarly background, and their women always dressed elegantly and gracefully. Madam Xu was no exception, except that her emerald-green gauze dress made her seem somewhat out of place. In truth, Madam Xu was quite beautiful, with distinct and spirited features. Her eyes were as clear and distant as a freshly washed lake… unfortunately, she was blind.
Madam Xu hadn’t been born blind; it happened three months after she married into the Xu family. She suddenly fell ill with a peculiar sickness, experiencing a high fever for two days and nights, and when she woke up, she could no longer see. The Xu family consulted various divine doctors, but all efforts were in vain. Since then, Madam Xu seldom ventured outside. After all, it was inconvenient for a blind person to go out.
He Yan walked to the pavilion in the courtyard by the pond.
It had been a year since she married into the Xu family, and she went blind after just three months. During the remaining nine months, she had learned to live without relying on her eyes, and she adapted quite well. However, there were moments when she missed being able to see, like now. She could hear the raindrops falling on the pond, creating ripples, and feel the red carp in the pond vying for food, but she couldn’t see anything.
The unseen beauty of spring was the most beautiful, just like an unseen person.
Perhaps she had become blind too early, which resulted in her not having a clear memory of Xu Zhiheng’s current appearance. She could only recall Xu Zhiheng when he was fourteen years old, a young boy in green robes, smiling warmly as he extended his hand to her. Xu Zhiheng wouldn’t extend his hand to her now. Although he treated her with kindness and courtesy, there seemed to be an invisible barrier between them that He Yan could sense.
But she wouldn’t speak about it.
In her youth, after years of life in the military, she learned to interact with men using a male identity, but she didn’t know how to be a woman. So she could only watch Xu Zhiheng be affectionate and tender with her cousin Lady He, feeling both heartbroken and weary. It was better that she couldn’t see, as it spared her from these hurtful scenes and granted her a sense of tranquility.
She sat quietly in the pavilion, suddenly reminiscing about her youthful years, the days when she followed the army. It was also a spring day like this, with a light drizzle. She sat among the soldiers, smiling as she drank a bowl of strong liquor, feeling her whole body warming up.
The heat surged through her body in an instant. He Yan held onto the railing, a sweet sensation rising in her throat, and then she “pu” spat out a mouthful of blood.
Footsteps approached slowly.
He Yan asked, “Xiao Die?”
No answer came, and the footsteps stopped. He Yan furrowed her brows slightly, “Lady He?”
After a moment, a woman’s voice sounded, “Madam, your hearing is sharp.”
A strange feeling surged in her chest, and years of intuition made her subconsciously assume a defensive posture. Lady He had always been gentle and considerate, and they hadn’t exchanged many words in the mansion. Her sudden arrival, with an underlying tone of satisfaction, made He Yan uneasy.
But she was also puzzled. She was not a competent mistress of the house; in the mansion, she was more like a decoration. She couldn’t stop Lady He’s ambition for favor, and a blind woman posed no threat to Lady He. There was no reason for Lady He to deal with her.
“What is it?”
Lady He touched the hairpin on her temple. It was a gift from Xu Zhiheng yesterday, but she suddenly remembered that the person in front of her couldn’t see and withdrew her hand with a hint of regret. She said, “Madam, you’re pregnant.”
He Yan stood still, stunned.
“A few days ago, the physician who checked your pulse confirmed that you are pregnant.”
In her state of confusion, a trace of joy arose within her. She was about to speak, but then she heard Lady He sigh again, saying, “Unfortunately.”
The smile at the corner of He Yan’s mouth faded away, and she asked, “Unfortunately for what?”
“Unfortunately, this child cannot be kept.”
He Yan sternly replied, “Lady He, you dare!”
Her delicate eyebrows knitted together, her gaze was sharp despite her blindness, and even Lady He felt a chill down her spine for a moment. However, she quickly steadied herself and said, “It’s not just me saying this, General He.”
At the mention of General He, He Yan’s scalp tingled. She asked, “What do you know?”
“I know everything I should know, and even things I shouldn’t know. General He, with such a significant secret, how could the He family and the Xu family dare to keep you?”
He Yan couldn’t utter a word.
Nineteen years ago, before the He family had a renowned military general like the “Flying Phoenix General,” they were just like many noble families in Da Wei, on the brink of decline. At that time, both sisters-in-law of the He family gave birth. The eldest master’s wife gave birth to He Rufei, and the second master’s wife gave birth to He Yan.
The title should have rightfully passed to He Rufei, but he was born weak, and the physician predicted he wouldn’t live past three years old. When He Rufei died, the family’s title would be revoked, leaving the entire clan with nothing.
The He family made a daring and audacious decision; they had He Yan replace He Rufei, while He Rufei pretended to be He Yan and was sent to be raised in a temple.
He Yan grew up assuming the identity of He Rufei. Although she was born in the second wife’s chamber, she was raised in the main chamber. From a young age, she considered herself a boy, enjoying martial training. At the age of fourteen, she left her family and joined Fu Yue Army, gradually gaining fame in battles. She even earned the Emperor’s appreciation and was bestowed the title of “Flying Phoenix General,” given the opportunity to enter the palace for an audience.
Around that time, the real He Rufei, who had been sent to the temple “to recuperate,” returned.
He Rufei didn’t die; he lived peacefully until he turned eighteen. He appeared agile and handsome. Therefore, everything returned to its original place.
He Rufei saw the Emperor and became the “Flying Phoenix General,” while He Yan remained He Yan. Everything wasn’t as difficult as imagined. To protect the situation that had arisen today, the He family had long-established rules; He Yan used a mask when appearing to others, and no one had seen the real appearance of He Rufei. And He Yan, arranged by the He family, married Xu Zhiheng, the current esteemed Hanlin Scholar and talented young man.
Xu Zhiheng was handsome, gentle, considerate, and courteous. His mother was also kind-hearted and never mistreated He Yan. For a woman, it should have been the most excellent match. He Yan once thought so, until today. The facade of warmth was torn apart, and the blood-chilling truth was even more difficult to bear than the most challenging battle she had encountered on the battlefield.
“When you drank that poisoned medicine that blinded you, it was personally ordered by your elders. Only dead people can keep a secret, and you, being alive, are a tremendous threat to them!”
“When you took the medicine, the Young Master watched from the adjacent room.”
“You’ll die, and both the He and Xu families will breathe a sigh of relief, it’s all your fault.”
He Yan burst into loud laughter.
All her fault?
All her fault for taking He Rufei’s place for the sake of the family’s interests? All her fault for being obsessed with martial arts and joining the military? All her fault for shedding blood on the battlefield and achieving military accomplishments? Or is it All her fault for letting He Rufei take credit for her achievements?
It’s all her fault because she’s a woman. Being a woman, she couldn’t openly make contributions and achievements under her own name. Being a woman, she was destined to sacrifice herself for the He family and its men. In the end, she overestimated the humanity of the He family and underestimated their selfishness.
And Xu Zhiheng… she should have gone blind a long time ago to think he was good.
“Why are you laughing?” He Wanru furrowed her brows and asked.
“I’m laughing at you,” He Yan turned toward her direction and said deliberately, “I’m laughing at how ridiculous you are. I’ll die because of this secret, but do you think you’ll survive even if you know this secret?”
He Wanru sneered, “You’re stubborn even at death’s door. Guards—”
Swiftly, the guards appeared and surrounded He Yan.
Willow branches can be turned into weapons. They are soft and flexible, like a woman’s hand. Although they seemed to be light branches, they held new, tender buds that resembled a beautifully embroidered sword. With such a weapon, they could parry an opponent’s knife.
He Wanru had heard of the “Flying Phoenix General” before. She knew the woman was brave and skilled in battle, unlike an ordinary girl. However, it was only when she saw it with her own eyes that she realized the rumors were true.
He Yan might be blind, but she could fight ten opponents at once. She kicked away the guards in front of her as if she wanted to break through the encirclement and leave this sinister mansion, with no one to stop her.
However, in an instant, she fell like a shot goose, crashing down from mid-air. She spat out blood, which splattered among the grass like scattered wildflowers.
That cup of tea… Xiao Die handed her that cup of tea.
She lost her sight, and now she had lost all her senses, becoming a true blind person, a trapped animal fighting for survival.
They were well-prepared to kill her without leaving any evidence on her body.
“Fools, do it now!” He Wanru urged anxiously.
He Yan wanted to lift her head, but a “crack” sounded in her knees, followed by a heavy blow to her legs from behind. Her legs went weak, almost causing her to kneel, but the next moment, she received a punch to her back.
Fists rained down on her, like raindrops striking her body, causing pain in every organ.
They wouldn’t use swords to injure her, nor leave any evidence of their actions on her body.
Someone dragged her by her hair toward the edge of the pond, violently pressing her head down into the icy water. The cold water submerged her eyes, nose, and mouth, and went up to her neck. He Yan could no longer speak. Her body sank heavily, but she struggled to look upward. The water surface moved farther away from her, and the light above seemed like sunlight. For a moment, it was as if she had returned to her hometown, hearing the soldiers sing songs during the march, her comrades reading letters from home in their local accents, accompanied by He Wanru’s anxious crying.
“Someone help, the madam is drowning—”
She wanted to go home.
But she had no home to return to.
Hey there, darlings! Long time no see! Let’s start with an opening and leave a placeholder, I’ll accumulate some drafts before officially starting the serialization. Looking forward to your excited hands! (Our Yan Yan has such a miserable life as a woman, please take good care of her/(ㄒoㄒ)/~~)