Rebirth of a Star General Chapter 133

Chapter 133: Zither Skill

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Yan Miner and Lady Yan’s conversation was overheard by a young woman in green attire. This young woman was a bit younger than Yan Miner and even more delicate and beautiful. She asked, “I’ve heard that Young Master Qiao’s wife is a famous talent in Huzhou. I wonder if she’s attractive?”

Yan Miner chuckled and replied cryptically, “Even if she’s a famous talent, she can’t compare to our Ah Xiu in Jiyang.”

Ling Xiu was the beloved daughter of Wangfu’s Hall of Records official, Ling Dianyi. At the age of five, she could compose poetry, and by the age of seven, she was already famous in Jiyang. She excelled in everything from music and chess to calligraphy and painting, and she was both delicate and beautiful. In a city where most women were known for their beauty and boldness, she truly stood out. Upon hearing of another talented woman from Huzhou, a spirit of competition arose.

Another young woman on the other side of the conversation smirked and said, “Why compare Ah Xiu to a merchant’s wife, isn’t that lowering one’s own status. Who’s to say these ‘talented women’ aren’t just embellishing themselves with a false reputation, like adding a layer of gold to their own bodies.”

Ling Xiu also laughed and said, “If Young Master Qiao really stays in Jiyang, he won’t be just a merchant in the future.”

“Once a merchant, always a merchant. That smell of copper clings to the bone, and changing one’s clothes won’t cover it up,” Yan Miner said disdainfully. “In the end, they can’t fit into high society.”

The young women laughed together, and at that moment, someone announced, “Cui Zhongqi has arrived!”

Everyone looked in the direction of the announcement and saw a middle-aged man walking toward them from the lakeside pavilion. He had a round, broad figure and a genial appearance, resembling a Buddha. He was dressed in black martial attire and appeared energetic. When he reached the pavilion, he handed his long spear to a subordinate and said, “You’ve all arrived.”

The people stood up to greet Cui Yuezhi.

In Jiyang, Cui Yuezhi was a figure who stood above all others, and thus, both inside and outside the Wangfu, people respected him. Cui Yuezhi turned to ask Zhong Fu, “Have Huangqing and the others arrived?”

“They’ve been sent for,” Zhong Fu replied with a smile. “They should arrive soon.”

Yesterday, Cui Yuezhi had stayed in Wangfu after discussing matters with the princess and had consumed a few drinks. Today, he had continued to argue with the stubborn old men, and he had not yet seen his nephew. He stroked his chin and said, “I wonder what my nephew is like. Does he resemble big brother? Is there any resemblance to me?”

Zhong Fu hesitated, honestly, this Young Master Qiao bore no resemblance to anyone in the Cui family except in gender.

“That child is said to have been raised in a merchant’s household,” Cui Yuezhi expressed some concern. “Although I don’t mind that, these nobles in the city place great importance on social status. I hope they won’t look down on him.”

Before Zhong Fu could reply, a servant from the Cui family approached and said, “Young Master Qiao, Madam Qiao has arrived—”

The crowd instinctively looked in the direction of the announcement.

At the far end of the pavilion, by the lakeside, two young people walked side by side. A man and a woman, both very young. The man was tall, with a graceful posture like jade. He was dressed in a dark blue robe with black and gold snake patterns, and he appeared very elegant. His black hair was tied up with a jade pin, and his features were refined and beautiful, exuding an air of aloofness. The woman standing beside him was full of smiles, charming and lovely. Her clothes seemed to be made of an unusual material; they appeared plain white at first but shimmered with shades of blue, purple, and gold as she moved, creating a dreamy and enchanting effect.

Both of them were extraordinarily attractive in appearance and demeanor, and they complemented each other in a unique way. Standing together, they looked incredibly well-matched. For a moment, everyone in the pavilion was left speechless.

Was this the son of a common merchant, someone immersed in the world of trade?

Could a merchant exude such extraordinary charm?

Cui Yuezhi was also taken aback. Was this his elder brother’s son?

His elder brother’s appearance bore a striking resemblance to him, about seventy percent similar. Not to mention handsome, but even graceful can hardly be reached. This… was perhaps a bit too good-looking.

Yan Miner was taken aback, and her expression suddenly turned very unpleasant. She recognized these two individuals. The woman was the same person who had embarrassed her in the Embroidered Brocade Lane and the man… who had mocked her for her dark skin tone. After returning to her residence, she couldn’t let go of this grudge. Little did she know that these two were the nephew and niece-in-law that Cui Yuezhi had found.

She was so furious that she felt like she might vomit blood.

On the other hand, Ling Xiu’s gaze was fixed on Xiao Jue, and she seemed somewhat enchanted. She whispered, “I never thought there could be such a handsome man in this world…”

Jiyang was different from Shuojing. The women were known for their beauty and boldness, while the men were known for their bravery and valor. Such exceptional talents as Ling Xiu were highly sought after in Jiyang. However, a man as handsome and elegant as Xiao Jue was a rare find, and all the unmarried young ladies at the banquet fixated on him like wolves eyeing their prey.

He Yan also noticed these covetous glances and couldn’t help but curse internally. It seemed that Xiao Jue’s appearance could captivate anyone, no matter where he went.

Behind these two, Lin Shuanghe followed. Initially, the others thought he might be Xiao Jue’s relative or friend, but when they learned he was the steward, they were equally shocked.

They hadn’t expected that in Huzhou, the requirements for a steward were so strict.

Cui Yuezhi arranged for Xiao Jue and He Yan to sit, their place just below his long table to the right.

“Huanqing,” Cui Yuezhi grinned at him, “I never expected you to turn out so good-looking.”

It was really a boost to the reputation of the Cui family. In Jiyang, there was no one more attractive than this young man. Back in the day, Cui Yuezhi had been ridiculed as a “round ball” due to his crudeness and obesity. When Qiao Huanqing had not returned yet, rumors in Jiyang had predicted the arrival of another “little fat ball.” Little did they know… this was truly a face-saving moment for the Cui family.

Cui Yuezhi’s family had finally redeemed itself.

Xiao Jue nodded calmly.

Cui Yuezhi’s gaze shifted to He Yan and he said, “Niece-in-law, you look very young. How old are you this year?”

He Yan replied, “I’m nearly seventeen.”

“Seventeen, that’s good,” Cui Yuezhi said. The more he looked at He Yan, the more satisfied he felt. Beautiful, both his nephew and niece-in-law were good-looking. He imagined that their children would be even more beautiful. The Cui family’s bloodline was sure to become stronger with each generation. Thinking of this, he felt grateful and pleased, even considering going to the ancestral hall to light incense for his late brother. Truly, heaven had blessed them.

“Today’s banquet on the lake is specially arranged to welcome you both,” Cui Yuezhi said with a smile. “How do you find it?”

Xiao Jue responded, “It’s wonderful, thank you, Uncle.”

This “Uncle” immediately pleased Cui Yuezhi. His face was about to split from smiling as he turned to the other guests and said, “Have you all seen it? This is the only son of my deceased elder brother, my nephew!”

The guests raised their glasses and offered compliments such as “extraordinary appearance” and “a cultured couple,” while congratulating Cui Yuezhi on the family reunion.

Cui Yuezhi was overjoyed, and he instructed the servants to serve the dishes, and the banquet began.

In Jiyang, there was no tradition of separating men and women at different tables. Seating at the long table was arranged based on guests’ preferences. Cui Yuezhi inquired further about various matters related to Xiao Jue as the banquet continued, and the conversation eventually turned to He Yan.

“I heard that you and niece-in-law recently got married?” 

“We got married in Huzhou last October,” Xiao Jue replied, “not even half a year ago.”

Cui Yuezhi let out a regretful “Oh” and said, “It’s a pity I didn’t get to witness it personally.” He patted Xiao Jue on the shoulder and added, “If I could have seen your wedding, I’d have no regrets in life.”

“What does niece-in-law’s family do? Huzhou is quite far from Jiyang, and it’s not easy to gather information.”

He Yan replied as she had been instructed, “Yuyan’s family is just an ordinary one, and I am grateful that Young Master cared.”

“An ordinary family?” The people at the table had various reactions, realizing that this meant a commoner’s family. People generally assumed that even though Young Master Qiao came from a merchant background, he was immensely wealthy. Riches could move mountains, and why would he marry someone from an ordinary family? If he was interested in Yuyan’s beauty, he could have taken her as a concubine rather than his principal wife.

The young women at the table cast envious and jealous glances at He Yan.

Ling Xiu’s gaze shifted to Xiao Jue’s face. The young man was naturally handsome, and in his current relaxed state, his occasional touch of aloofness made him even more intriguing. He easily outshone all the young men in Jiyang.

She also looked at He Yan, a daughter from an ordinary family who couldn’t compare to herself in terms of appearance or status. A feeling of resentment welled up in her. In her opinion, Yuyan didn’t deserve Young Master Qiao; it should have been her standing by his side.

She stood up and softly said, “Today, Lord Cui has found his family members, which is a reason for celebration. Ah Xiu is willing to play a piece on the zither to express her congratulations.” After her words, she cast a shy smile while her gaze passed over Xiao Jue.

The young men at the table, upon hearing this, were instantly delighted and overjoyed. Their eager gazes were fixed on Ling Xiu.

Jiyang’s young ladies were known for their boldness and self-confidence, and displaying their talents in front of others was nothing to be ashamed of. However, Ling Xiu was different from the rest. She never liked to showcase herself actively, even at a banquet, she would resist and only agree when there was no other option.

So her proactive offer today was a first, and her specialty was zither music, making everyone highly anticipate her performance.

Cui Yuezhi was delighted as well and raised his hand, saying, “Great! Today, Ah Xiu will show us her remarkable talent. If she plays exceptionally well, Uncle will give you a great reward!”

Lord Ling and Madam Ling had smiles on their faces. Such a splendid moment wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for them; after all, everyone in Jiyang knew that Ling Xiu was a remarkable beauty with unmatched talents.

A zither was soon brought to her, colored in the same shade of green as spring grass, fresh and vibrant. She was also wearing a light green gauzy dress, resembling a bewitching figure from a spring day. With slender fingers, she lit some incense and gently plucked the zither strings.

She began to play “Late Spring.”

In the late spring, the gentle wind carries young horses through the Five Mountains. The warm sun shines over the West Lake in March. Music and strings touch the hearts of the marketplace, drawing those who don’t appreciate music here. Suitable for singing, drinking, and composing poetry, over the mountains, her beautiful eyebrows draw the distant landscape, and her willow-like hair falls over her temple…

The melodious zither music, brushing past the ears, intoxicating everyone. He Yan felt the same way and couldn’t help but think that this young lady was truly skillful. When she compared her qin-playing to her own, she realized that she could easily break the strings and wouldn’t be able to play a complete tune. 

She was truly talented. 

As she listened in rapture, she glanced at Xiao Jue, but he remained unaffected, just sipping his tea. She couldn’t help but nudge him and whispered, “Why aren’t you listening?” 

Xiao Jue replied, “I am listening.” 

“So why aren’t you showing any signs of enjoying it?” 

“What does enjoying it look like?” 

He Yan pouted and gestured toward the other young men, saying, “Like them.” 

The young men present, including some slightly older gentlemen, were all gazing at Ling Xiu with a dazed expression, as if they were drowning in the zither music. Admiration shone in their eyes. Xiao Jue withdrew his gaze and said indifferently, “Boring.” 

“You’re so hard to please,” He Yan muttered softly, “I think it sounds beautiful, and she’s attractive too. If I could get to know a girl like her, I’d be extremely happy.”

“Happy?” Xiao Jue suddenly smiled and looked at her with amusement. “I hope you’ll be just as happy next.”

He Yan didn’t understand his meaning and replied, “Of course, I’ll be happy.”

During their conversation, Ling Xiu had already finished playing her piece. She glanced at Xiao Jue but saw him talking to He Yan while sipping tea. His lips curved playfully, making her feel even more frustrated.

She stood up, and those around her showered her with praise. Cui Yuezhi also smiled and said, “Ah Xiu, your zither music, it’s like lingering echoes, unforgettable for three, no, nine days!”

No one could deny the beauty of her zither playing. Ling Xiu looked at Xiao Jue once more but saw that he remained focused on his tea, not bothering to glance in her direction. However, ” Wen Yuyan,” his companion, was smiling at her as if mocking.

Ling Xiu’s smile became somewhat forced, but she humbly said, “Ah Xiu wouldn’t dare to show off. I heard that Madame Qiao from Huzhou is a famous talent in the area, with incredible zither skills. Since we have the opportunity here today, could I ask Madame to let us witness her extraordinary zither playing?” She stared at He Yan with anticipation and said, “Let everyone see how marvelous Madame’s zither skills are.”

He Yan had been enjoying herself, but upon hearing this, she froze. Why did they suddenly bring her into the spotlight? Was Wen Yuyan supposed to be exceptionally talented in zither music? Why didn’t she know about this?

He Yan cast a pleading glance at Lin Shuanghe, her teacher. He was supposed to help her in such situations, but he acted as if he was engaged in a separate conversation, showing no intention of assisting her.

“I think… there’s no need for that….” He Yan stammered, “Lady Ah Xiu’s zither skills are already quite good. I don’t think it’s necessary to go any further.”

“Why would you say it’s unnecessary?” Ling Xiu looked at He Yan with utmost sincerity. “I’m really looking forward to hearing Madame’s zither music. I’d like everyone to appreciate how extraordinary it is.”

He Yan: “…”

Her zither sound? Her zither sound was meant to exorcise and purify, not for appreciation!

Ling Xiu noticed He Yan’s discomfort, which pleased her. She had heard rumors about Wen Yuyan’s exceptional talents, but she suspected they were a sham. If she could make Wen Yuyan look foolish in front of everyone today, it would become the talk of Jiyang.

Yan Miner, who had always been at odds with Ling Xiu and had a sharp tongue, couldn’t help but revel in the situation. Previously, when they were at the Embroidered Brocade Lane, although it was Xiao Jue who had made sarcastic remarks, Yan Miner had held it against He Yan. Generally, women who were admired by such outstanding men always seemed more conspicuous, especially when she appeared to have no special qualities. It made her seem less deserving of the attention.

He Yan looked at Xiao Jue next to her. He was calmly sipping tea, his demeanor relaxed.

No wonder he said, “I hope you’ll be just as happy next.” Had he anticipated this situation? How did he know? These strange thoughts swirled in He Yan’s mind. She tentatively reached under the table and tugged at his sleeve, whispering, “Can you help me?”

Xiao Jue replied nonchalantly, “You’ve learned, haven’t you?”

“I haven’t learned well,” He Yan said. “Earlier, Lin Shuanghe taught me, and he said I was already doing quite well. But after hearing this young lady play, I felt like I was doing something wrong.”

Her words were tactful, but the truth was, it wasn’t just slightly wrong, but completely off track.

“You can’t even play the zither, go, chess, or write,” he remarked. “What else can you do besides scamming people?”

He Yan hesitated before saying, “I can break a stone with my chest?”

But she couldn’t demonstrate that skill in front of everyone here!

Xiao Jue: “…”

“If I slip up, we’re both in trouble. Can you help me?” He Yan implored. “Commander, Young Master, Second Young Master Xiao, husband?”

The term “husband” visibly disgusted Xiao Jue, and he said, “Choose your words carefully.”

He Yan continued, “So you’re agreeing to help?”

Their conversation was whispered so low that it appeared as if He Yan was playfully coaxing Xiao Jue, who indulged her completely.

Cui Yuezhi chuckled, “What’s this? Yuyan doesn’t want to play the zither?”

“To be honest, my wife and I had an agreement when we got married. She’s extremely skilled at playing the zither, but she can only perform for me.” Xiao Jue said nonchalantly, “So, I’m afraid she can’t fulfill this young lady’s request today.”

The audience was taken aback, and even He Yan was bewildered. She had never expected Xiao Jue to use this excuse. However, upon reflection, it was a brilliant justification. Using any other excuse might work once but could lead to further demands. This reason preemptively avoided any future requests, as it was based on an unbreakable agreement.

Ling Xiu’s expression turned stiff. She looked at the young lady sitting beside Xiao Jue and couldn’t help but feel that she was wronged. She said with a forced smile, “Today is a special day for the young master and Lord Cui to reunite. With so many people here, it won’t hurt to make an exception, will it?”

“My agreement with the lady is unshakable,” Xiao Jue glanced at her with indifference. “If it has to be heard, I can play on her behalf.” His tone had turned cold and impatient by the end. 

Ling Xiu was taken aback and felt a bit intimidated by his chilly demeanor. For a moment, she couldn’t speak. Cui Yuezhi came to the rescue, laughing, “Huanqing can play the zither?”

“I have some knowledge of it.”

“Then I want to hear Huanqing’s zither music today.” Cui Yuezhi clapped his hands and laughed. “In my family, generations have been warriors, and we’ve never had such an elegant person like this! Zhong Fu, clean the zither again.”

“No need,” Xiao Jue said. “Steward Lin, fetch the Evening Fragrance Zither.”

Xiao Jue’s refined taste was well known, even to He Yan. However, for those who didn’t know, such as Ling Xiu, it appeared as if Xiao Jue was avoiding using the same zither as her. She couldn’t help but bite her lip. She reluctantly returned to her seat.

Lin Shuanghe quickly brought Xiao Jue’s Evening Fragrance Zither.

He Yan still remembered this Evening Fragrance Zither. Before they went to the Liangzhou Garrison and she impersonated Cheng Lisu, she had broken this zither while drunk. Xiao Jue had taken it to Liangzhou City for repairs. Just by looking at it, she knew it was quite valuable. Fortunately, Xiao Jue hadn’t asked her to repay him, as she couldn’t afford it, even if she had to sell herself.

He Yan recalled that she had heard Xiao Jue play the zither before, but her memory was fuzzy because she was half-drunk at the time. Looking at the zither now, her drunken recollections resurfaced.

The man sat in front of the zither, preparing his hands with a sense of laziness and nonchalance that was different from Ling Xiu’s calculated posture. His casual demeanor seemed natural, and it displayed a carefree attitude. Unless you were a seasoned zither player, you couldn’t achieve such a relaxed and fluid performance.

In a brief moment, He Yan seemed to catch a glimpse of the young man who had once dozed off under the loquat tree at Xianchang Academy. 

But he had grown up.

The zither strings were plucked.

His hands were slender, and his knuckles were distinct, making them look particularly attractive. As he played, he produced melodious sounds. This melody differed from Ling Xiu’s lively and happy tune earlier, carrying a quiet, ethereal melancholy, like moonlight shimmering on a serene river, flowing gently into the distance.

He was playing “River Moon.”

This piece of music was quite challenging, and it demanded a high level of zither skill. He Yan had heard someone play it before, her master Liu Buwang. However, when Liu Buwang played, it was more about reminiscence or melancholy. The feeling of Xiao Jue’s performance was different.

A handsome man engaged in elegant activities always drew special attention. Even Ling Xiu, who had been frightened by Xiao Jue a moment ago, or Yan Miner, who had been ridiculed by him earlier, as well as many others, couldn’t help but be immersed in his music.

He Yan was no exception.

As he played the zither, his long, feathery eyelashes veiled the cold and aloof look in his eyes, leaving only a sense of gentleness. His handsome features were overly captivating, his thin lips slightly pursed, giving off an air of restraint and charm.

He Yan thought that it was difficult to find someone more outstanding and good-looking than him in this world.

The music came to an end, and Xiao Jue withdrew his hands.

Everyone stared at him, momentarily silent.

If it weren’t for his performance of “River Moon,” Ling Xiu’s “Late Spring” would have been considered excellent. But in comparison, Ling Xiu’s zither skills appeared rather plain and unremarkable.

Whether they were male or female, they all had one common confusion in their hearts. Wasn’t it said that Qiao Huanqing, who came from Huzhou, had been adopted by a merchant family? Now, looking at him, it didn’t seem like a merchant family could raise someone like him.

Cui Yuezhi’s expression brightened even more as he continued to watch Xiao Jue. He laughed heartily and said, “Huanqing, your music has left us all amazed! The Princess used to say that Ah Xiu’s zither skills are the best in Jiyang City. Next time, I’ll take you to the royal palace, and if the Princess hears your music, she’ll surely praise you highly!”

At this point, the others had various thoughts running through their minds. If Cui Yuezhi was mentioning the Princess, it meant he had the intention of bringing Qiao Huanqing into the royal palace. With such a prospect, Qiao Huanqing couldn’t be regarded as an ordinary merchant…

Xiao Jue smiled faintly and cast a deep, enigmatic glance at He Yan. He calmly said, “I am humbled. In fact, my zither skills don’t even compare to my wife’s one-tenth.”

“Really?” Cui Yuezhi looked at He Yan in astonishment. “Then it must be exceptionally good!”

He Yan blushed.

She felt a bit embarrassed.

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