Chapter 44: Moonlight at That Time
Before entering Xianchang Academy, He Yan always thought highly of herself.
But after entering Xianchang Academy, every day, He Yan doubted whether she had taken a step forward on her path.
Everyone admitted to Xianchang Academy were the offspring of noble families. Not only were they wealthy and influential, but they also had rich family backgrounds. They were incomparable to nouveau riche families or those who relied on their titles to get by. If it weren’t for He Yuanliang’s private friendship with the teacher assistant, she would not have been able to get into Xianchang Academy.
On one hand, He Yan was thrilled about being able to join Xianchang Academy, but on the other hand, every day was filled with agony for her.
The reason was simple: compared to the other children in the academy, her performance was rather dismal.
The He family had raised her to behave and act like a man, but she hadn’t learned much about other matters. When she first arrived at Xianchang Academy, she was clueless about many things and often became the subject of ridicule, much to the frustration of her instructors.
She managed relatively well in the liberal arts; by studying hard, memorizing, and listening attentively during lectures, she could barely maintain an average level. However, when it came to martial arts, she was a complete failure.
Since she was young, He Yan had secretly sneaked into the back mountains to help the monks carry water and practice her martial skills. She considered herself decent, but the first time she took the martial arts assessment at Xianchang Academy, it turned her into a spectacle.
The “bow, knife, and stone”, she was unqualified for all. She fell off the horse while riding, and her arrows missed the target. Even the teacher shook his head and sighed. The young men around her laughed uncontrollably. Someone said, “He Rufei, are you really a girl? You don’t know anything! Do you only learn embroidery at home?”
He Yan hurriedly stood up from the ground, dusted herself off, and thought, “No, if this continues, they’ll discover my identity. Before they find out, Madam He will take me back, and I’ll have to endure it at home again. I’d better study hard and practice diligently so I can safely stay at Xianchang Academy.”
So He Yan began her path of “studying hard and practicing diligently.”
There was no “borrowing light through piercing a wall*,” no “capturing fireflies to illuminate the snow,” but “rising at the crowing of the rooster and dancing**” existed, and “hanging from the beams and pricking the thigh***” was there too. He Yan would often curse under her breath as she practiced, whether it was calligraphy, horseback riding, archery, or even knife techniques.
*study diligently in the face of hardship
** be diligent in one’s studies
*** study assiduously and tirelessly
She couldn’t sneak light through a hole in the wall, nor could she hold a firefly to illuminate the snow, but she could get up early to practice dancing like a rooster and even endure the pain of stabbing her legs while hanging from the rafters. He Yan often cursed in her heart while practicing, practicing writing, horseback riding, archery, and swordsmanship.
She tried her best but could only struggle at the bottom. As a result, those prodigies who didn’t need to work hard and easily excelled became even more conspicuous.
Xiao Jue was one of them, and the most detestable one at that.
This young man was born handsome, with an aristocratic appearance. With such a privileged family background and the favor of thousands, that would have been fine. But he also often arrived late and left early at the academy, rarely putting effort into his studies, yet he was always the first in both liberal arts and martial arts.
He Yan was puzzled. Heaven had already given him beauty and a noble position, so why did it have to give him intelligence too? Couldn’t it spare a little for her?
Heaven didn’t answer He Yan, and she could only strive harder to make up for her shortcomings.
Gradually, He Yan’s skills in “knife, horse, and bow” began to improve. Although she still couldn’t compare to the young men who had been accompanied by their fathers and brothers since childhood, she no longer ranked last every time. Sometimes, she could even achieve third from the bottom.
He Yan was satisfied with her progress; her efforts were rewarded.
Later at Xianchang Academy, there was a division of weapons in the martial arts curriculum. He Yan chose the sword, not for any other reason but because she felt it was lighter than the knife, making it less laborious to swing.
However, her swordsmanship was a complete mess.
The He family had never hired a martial arts teacher specifically for her, so she had no foundation at all and couldn’t even get her horse stance right. The swordsmanship teacher at Xianchang Academy didn’t have much hope for her either. As long as she looked decent, that would be enough. Whether she could defend herself or not didn’t matter. Which young master went out without a few attendants? If there was any danger, the attendants would handle it.
But He Yan felt that this was not enough.
Since she had chosen it, she should master the sword. The students could only go home for two days a month, and the rest of the time, they stayed at Xianchang Academy. He Yan sneaked out at night, running to the academy’s courtyard to practice swordsmanship.
The academy’s surroundings were elegant, especially in good moonlight. The wind rustled through the bamboo forest, and the verdant colors meandered under the moonlight, creating a beautiful scene with moon, bamboo, cypress, and the red carp in the pond waving their tails, resembling a fairyland on earth. A skilled practitioner here only waited for turmoil in the world; when there was chaos, they would emerge.
He Yan was quite happy practicing there, if one ignored her miserable swordsmanship.
By accident, she cut off a corner of her clothes, was accidentally hit on the head by the scabbard, accidentally tripped, and accidentally…
She heard a light laugh.
In the dark night, this inexplicable laughter made He Yan nervously stand up. Was she seeing a ghost?
She saw that someone was sitting on the stone bench in the small courtyard, wearing a white robe and embroidered boots. His appearance was handsome and bright—it was the favored prodigy, Xiao Jue.
Xiao Jue lowered his head to look at her, and she quickly hid her hands behind her back, vigorously wiping the dirt off her clothes. She tried to maintain her composure and asked, “What are you doing here?”
“I’m watching you practice swordsmanship,” the young man lazily replied.
“What’s there to watch?” She mustered the courage to respond. She never liked speaking to the young men at Xianchang Academy; they didn’t like her and always bullied her.
Xiao Jue looked at her for a while, then suddenly stood up. Caught off guard, she found the young man standing in front of her. Being a girl, she was naturally not as tall as the boys and barely reached the young man’s chest. She raised her head and saw his clear jawline and those beautiful, gentle, and cool eyes, like autumn water.
“I was just surprised…” Xiao Jue lightly curved his lips. He was naturally handsome, and when he smiled, he outshone the entire cool night, even surpassing the moonlight. However, his words carried a hint of mockery. “I didn’t expect someone to work so hard and still be a weakling.”
He Yan: “…”
She pushed Xiao Jue away, picked up her sword, and ran away. She felt indignant; the heavens were fair, giving this young man beauty, talent, and a good family background, but they didn’t give him a good heart.
This person was so annoying!
After that, He Yan continued to sneak out to the courtyard every night to practice swordsmanship. She thought it was simple: diligence can make up for deficiencies, and it’s always better to work hard than not at all.
However, what made her angry was that since that day, Xiao Jue also came out every night. While she practiced swordsmanship, he would sit on the stone bench, reading and drinking tea by candlelight. She fell and bruised her nose and face, and her clothes were damaged several times, while he enjoyed the moonlight and cool breeze, maintaining an elegant demeanor while watching her make a fool of herself.
She still strived to maintain her position between the bottom three, while he effortlessly remained at the top in everything.
She worked hard, and he remained relaxed. Spring went, autumn came; winter arrived, summer passed. The young man grew into a youth, while the girl’s face changed. White clouds passed, and the sea changed, but what remained unchanged was the night at Xianchang Academy and the crescent moon over the backyard bamboo.
Uncle’s impression of Yan Yan in his previous life and current life: A very diligent boy (girl).