Chapter 2: Sister and brother
The rain of spring seemed endless, falling non-stop.
Inside the house, however, it was warm, with a roaring fire in the stove. The lid of the pot on top emitted steam, making a clear “gudugudu” sound.
A young girl sat in front of the mirror, where a bronze mirror reflected her slightly pale face. Her eyebrows were delicate and her cheeks slightly flushed. Her lips were like small diamond-shaped loquats, giving her a refined and distant appearance. Her almond-shaped eyes were dark and moist, resembling a mountain stream about to gather mist at any moment, the faint clouds dispersing to reveal splendid jewels. With her snow-white skin and charming looks, she was a beautiful girl, but that was all there was to her beauty.
She was well aware of her own beauty, evident by the cosmetics such as rouge, powder, and fragrant head ointments placed on the small dressing table in front of her. The scent of cosmetics lingered around her, and He Yan wrinkled her nose, unable to resist a sneeze.
The bronze mirror was instantly covered with a layer of white frost from the exhaled breath, making the face in the mirror unclear. He Yan had a moment of confusion, as if she had returned to the moment when she first took off her male disguise. She had sat in front of the mirror, looking at her reflection as a woman, feeling as if it was a world away.
She had drowned in the pond of the Xu family, led by Lady He, but upon waking up, she had become He Yan. Not the sister of the current Flying Phoenix General, He Rufei, nor the wife of Xu Zhiheng, but the eldest daughter of the 9th-ranked military officer, He Sui, the He Yan of this dilapidated little house.
Both were He Yan, but their identities and positions were worlds apart.
“He Yan, why didn’t you say anything when you woke up?” accompanied by the voice from outside, the door curtain was lifted, and a figure came in with the cold wind.
It was a middle-aged man with a beard, a square face, dark skin, and a tall and robust figure, resembling a clumsy and strong bear. His smile carried a trace of careful flattery. Seeing that there was no one in the room, he called out loudly, “Qingmei, where is Qingmei?”
“Qingmei went to collect herbs,” He Yan said softly.
The man scratched his head and said, “Oh, then let Dad pour the medicine for you.”
The white porcelain medicine bowl was not even as big as the man’s palm, and he was well aware of it. Therefore, he poured it with extra caution, and the room was immediately filled with the bitter scent of medicinal herbs. He Yan looked at the plum blossom on the edge of the medicine bowl and then turned her gaze to the man’s face. This was He Yan’s father, He Sui, the Commanding Officer of the City Gate.
The word “father” was unfamiliar to He Yan.
Her biological father should have been He Yuanliang, the second master of the He family, but because she took on the identity of He Rufei, she could only call him Second Uncle He Yuanliang. Her foster father, He Yuansheng, was actually her first uncle.
Her relationship with her foster father was not very affectionate, and when she initially expressed her desire to learn martial arts, it even reached freezing point. It was only after she earned military merits and received praise from the emperor that he became more enthusiastic. In the past years, although the main household didn’t mistreat her, they also didn’t truly understand what she was thinking. When He Yan was young, she had thought it was because he wasn’t her father’s daughter, but her biological father, He Yuanliang, was also indifferent to her. Perhaps it was like water poured out; a sent-away daughter, without being raised by his side, the affection would naturally fade.
As a result, the image of her father in He Yan’s mind was not as clear as that of her subordinate brothers.
He Sui had already poured the medicine into the bowl, carefully scooped away the remaining residue floating on the surface, and gently blew on it before bringing it to He Yan’s side, intending to feed her.
He Yan took the medicine bowl and said, “I can do it myself.”
The man withdrew his hand and awkwardly said, “Okay.”
The herbal soup emitted a gentle warmth, and He Yan hesitated as she looked at the medicine bowl in front of her. She remembered what Lady He had said before her death.
“That medicine to blind your poisonous eyes was personally sent by your family’s elders!”
Family elders, was it He Yuansheng? Or He Yuanliang? Or someone else? Xu Zhiheng knew, but what about the others?
She also recalled the day she drowned, the cup of hot tea handed to her by Xiao Die. When others gave her things, who knew if they were secretly scheming something?
Seeing He Yan hesitating, He Sui thought she found the medicine bitter and smiled, trying to coax her, “Yan Yan, don’t worry, it’s not bitter. Once you finish the medicine, you’ll feel better.”
He Yan no longer hesitated. Not waiting for He Sui to continue speaking, she brought her lips to the edge of the bowl and tilted her head back, swallowing the medicine in one gulp.
“Wait…” He Sui didn’t have a chance to speak, and He Yan had already placed the empty bowl on the table. He mumbled the remaining words in his mouth, “It’s hot…”
“Not hot,” He Yan replied.
He Sui didn’t know what to say for a moment. He stammered a few times before softly instructing, “Then rest well in the house and don’t run around. Dad will go to the training ground first.” He then took away the empty bowl.
Now, He Yan was alone in the room. She let out a slight sigh of relief. She wasn’t used to such intimate interactions with people, especially in the role of a woman, and especially as a girl who had been cherished and raised in the palm of someone’s hand.
Qingmei, the maidservant, had not returned yet. He Sui’s monthly salary was not much, as he was only a military officer and lacked real power. The people in this house depended on He Sui’s salary alone, and they could only afford one maidservant. As for the rest of the money, it probably all turned into cosmetics piled up on Miss He’s table.
He Yan stood up and walked to the door.
This body was soft and tender, like a piece of solidified white jade, fragrant and delicate, completely unfamiliar to her. Without strength, she couldn’t protect herself. If there was anything particularly good about this body, it would be the pair of clean and bright eyes that allowed her to see the light of the world once again.
A “thump” sound came from behind as a heavy object fell to the ground. He Yan turned her head and saw a young boy standing in front of her, unloading the bundle of firewood from his shoulder.
The boy was not very old, similar in age to He Yan. He was wearing a sky-blue waist-length robe and matching trousers, with white cloth tied around his legs for convenience while working. His skin was slightly dark, and his eyebrows and eyes bore some resemblance to He Yan, but his chin was slightly narrower and more resolute, giving him a determined and proud look.
This was He Yan’s younger brother, He Yunsheng, He Sui’s youngest son.
During the few days when He Yan was lying in bed, He Yunsheng had come over a few times to deliver water and bring firewood, but he never said a word to He Yan. Their relationship as siblings seemed to be not very good, but… He Yan looked at the roughly-made, ill-fitting cloth clothes on He Yunsheng and then looked at her own outfit, made of green satin and decorated with powdered cosmetics. She understood it slightly, but was still surprised.
In that He family, women were merely paving the way for men. Men were considered superior, as if they were the center of the world. However, it was different in this family. It seemed that their biological son was like someone picked up, while everything good in the He family was reserved for Miss He alone. Why was it like this?
He Yan stood in front of He Yunsheng, not budging an inch. He Yunsheng piled the firewood under the eaves and began chopping wood.
This family was truly impoverished. The only servant they had was a maid, while their own son was doing the work of a servant. I
n front of He Yan was the stack of firewood. He Yunsheng chopped it twice, furrowing his brows slightly. “Excuse me, please move aside. You’re blocking me.”
He didn’t even address her as “sister.”
He Yan remained motionless, neither stepping aside nor making her usual sharp and sarcastic remarks. He Yunsheng couldn’t help but look up and met He Yan’s earnest gaze.
He Yan said, “Your way of chopping wood is not right.”