For several consecutive days, the little princes were captivated by the excitement of cuju.
Playing cuju in the school was no longer enough to satisfy the cubs’ enthusiasm. After classes, the Fifth Prince, along with his two younger brothers, went to the cuju field.
Time for some real training!
“Today, I’ll show you how to play cuju properly,” the Fifth Prince said as he held a small sheepskin ball with golden threads. He casually tossed it, using his index finger to make it spin effortlessly.
“Wow, that’s impressive!” exclaimed the Sixth Prince, raising his little fists, always the first to cheer for his fifth brother.
The Seventh Prince stood beside the Sixth Prince.
As they entered, the Fifth Prince, worried about his distraction, had a eunuch take away his small frog toy. At this moment, the Seventh Prince seemed somewhat puzzled. He looked up with his round face, alternately glancing at the ball in his fifth brother’s hand and the goalposts in the center of the field. His expression appeared a bit curious but not really eager.
After spending some days together, Xue Yao had gained a basic understanding of this chubby little prince.
The Seventh Prince wasn’t interested in any kind of physical games!
It wasn’t Seventh Prince’s fault. Children of his size usually weren’t big fans of sports.
“Cuju, you know, can be played in two main ways,” the Fifth Prince explained while demonstrating.
He tossed the ball, his elbow swayed, and he used his index finger to catch the ball and make it spin, leaving the Sixth Prince in sheer admiration!
“One of the styles is called freestyle. We call it ‘white play’. This style is less competitive, more like a performance in cuju. It’s about a player’s ball control skills. You can show off your tricks to keep the ball from hitting the ground. If it touches the ground first, you lose. The other style is called goal-kicking.”
The Fifth Prince pointed towards the goalpost in the center of the field. “Simply put, you need to kick the ball into the goal. In matches, it’s divided into two teams, each with twelve or sixteen players. We’ll get into the details later. For now, let’s practice the basic ball control, which is the white play.”
“That’s great!!” exclaimed the Sixth Prince, raising his little fists with excitement!
The Seventh Prince, lost in thought, stared at a small bird perched on the upper left corner of the goalpost.
The Fifth Prince fixed the Seventh Prince with a commanding gaze.
The Seventh Prince instinctively looked back at him.
The two brothers silently locked eyes for a moment.
The Seventh Prince, feeling a bit deflated, reluctantly raised his chubby little hands and weakly chirped, “That’s great…”
The Fifth Prince nodded in satisfaction.
Xue Yao: “……”
The chubby cub clearly isn’t interested. Don’t let him fool you, Fifth Prince!
The three little princes each had a ball in their hands.
The Fifth Prince looked dashing as he lifted the hem of his robe and tucked it into his waistband for better ball-kicking convenience.
The Sixth Prince mimicked his actions, carefully bending down to tuck his robe into his waistband.
The Seventh Prince watched his two big brothers for a moment, then lowered his head and unfastened his own waistband.
Xue Yao: “……”
Don’t suddenly act indecent! While others are tucking their robes, why are you unfastening your waistband?
Because the eunuchs and maids were standing on the sidelines and there was no one to assist, Xue Yao had to step forward to help the Seventh Prince fasten his waistband and tuck the hem of his robe into the chubby cub’s waist.
In the field, apart from Xue Yao, two other readers-in-waiting were participating in the ball practice.
After attentively listening to the Fifth Prince’s explanation, everyone began the first round of ball-passing competition.
The first to step forward was the most enthusiastic, the Sixth Prince. He tossed the ball into the air, raised his foot, and successfully kicked the ball far away.
It ended after just one kick!
The Fifth Prince stepped forward and patted his younger brother’s shoulder. “Old Sixth, you need to work harder.”
The Sixth Prince asked eagerly, “Can I have another try?”
“No.” The Fifth Prince was very strict. “If your performance isn’t good this round, you’ll have to wait for the next one. Everyone only gets one chance.”
The Sixth Prince nodded in disappointment.
Next up was the Seventh Prince’s turn.
The chubby cub walked to the designated spot while holding the ball and froze.
“Old Seventh, start!” urged the Fifth Prince.
The Seventh Prince, holding the ball, mumbled, “Old Seventh, it’s starting.”
The Fifth Prince encouraged him, “Great! Let’s start!”
The Seventh Prince replied, “Great, it’s starting.”
However, the chubby cub still clung to the ball, unmoving.
Fifth Prince: “Start, Old Seventh!”
Seventh Prince: “It’s starting, Old Seventh.”
Xue Yao couldn’t bear to watch anymore.
It seemed like he was the only one in the entire field who understood what the chubby cub meant.
The Seventh Prince meant to say that he had already started.
“Your Highness, you can’t just hold the ball. You have to keep it in the air,” Xue Yao calmly explained the rules to the chubby cub.
The Seventh Prince, with an absent-minded look, shook the ball in his hand and mumbled the rules the Fifth Prince had initially explained, “If it touches the ground first, you lose.”
As long as it didn’t touch the ground, His Highness would win!
That actually made sense!
“That’s not what I meant!” The Fifth Prince, outwitted by his cunning little brother, was really mad!
“The rule is to keep the ball in the air continuously! You can’t just hold it without moving, and your hands can’t touch the ball!”
The Seventh Prince sighed with regret.
Xue Yao: “……”
Mischievous cub, you’ve had your fun! Are you even pranking your own big brother?
The Seventh Prince began juggling the ball.
With a toss of his small hand, the ball soared into the air—
Xue Yao’s heart suddenly tightened.
It had begun!
Coming from Long Aotian, this talent was about to amaze the entire field!
In the novel, when the Seventh Prince was thirteen, he participated in cuju for the first time and shocked everyone with his remarkable agility and performance, even though it was known that he never practiced.
What is Long Aotian? This is it!
The ball descended lightly from mid-air, and the Seventh Prince deftly flicked it upward with his elbow, sending it to the left, then with his left elbow—
Due to the incorrect angle of force, the ball veered to the side!
The Seventh Prince had no intention of chasing after the ball for a save. He simply extended his left foot, seized the last opportunity, and kicked the ball far as it was about to touch the ground.
“Three juggles, not bad,” the Fifth Prince smiled, offering encouragement.
Xue Yao: “……”
Is he kidding? Only three juggles?
How can the Long Aotian cub be this unskilled?
Consort Xi must have secretly swapped children, right?
“Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap, clap—” The Seventh Prince began applauding himself enthusiastically. “Old Seventh, first place!”
Xue Yao: “……”
His competitiveness matched the Prince Ning in the novel, but there was a terrifying gap in their abilities.
“Next round! Next round!” The Sixth Prince, who took second place, blushed. He actually lost to Seventh Brother, who had never participated in training. It was a complete loss of face!
“The next round hasn’t started yet,” the Fifth Prince patiently explained. “A’Yao, Fangqi, Xiaomu, you’re up too.”
Xue Yao promptly stepped forward.
He wasn’t quite adept at juggling with his elbows and shoulders, but he had excellent footwork for juggling.
The Fifth Prince’s fancy passing tricks were all ones he had mastered in his youth.
During teenage years, most boys relied on such tricks to capture the attention of female classmates. Xue Yao was no exception. In his previous life, he could easily juggle hundreds of times in a row without breaking a sweat.
However, he wasn’t sure if his eight-year-old body would adapt well.
This ball was slightly smaller and lighter than a soccer ball. While it was also inflated, it had bamboo frame and golden threads inside, giving it a very different bounce and feel compared to modern soccer balls.
With a sense of curiosity, Xue Yao was the first to step up. He tossed the ball, lifted his foot, and juggled: one, two, three…
Forty-six, forty-seven, forty-eight…
The people around him were left dumbfounded!
Among the readers-in-waiting, there was actually a cuju expert in hiding!
Xue Yao was in the zone and didn’t notice the astonishment around him.
He felt a bit excited, not expecting that even with a new body, his ball control memories remained intact.
Though the initial juggles were a bit unfamiliar due to the ball’s size, weight, and elasticity being different, it didn’t take him long to fully adapt.
At this moment, the soccer ball seemed like a magnet, always drawn to the back of his foot, staying perfectly in place.
“You’re indeed a good kicker!” The Fifth Prince clapped his hands, his eyes filled with joy. “Why didn’t you say so earlier? I was worried we wouldn’t have enough skilled players!”
“Your Highness is too kind,” Xue Yao humbly replied while juggling the ball. “I’ve only practiced some fancy footwork. I can’t handle elbow or shoulder juggling…”
He didn’t finish his sentence before he suddenly noticed, in his peripheral vision, the Seventh Prince was sitting on the ground drawing circles with a hint of resentment.
The first place of His Highness had been snatched away by Yaoyao!
Xue Yao quickly stopped juggling, caught the ball, and made an excuse to concede, “I can’t kick anymore.”
It was too late for everything.
The stubborn and proud cub had already pouted!
However, the next two readers-in-waiting each juggled seven or eight balls, completely outclassing the Seventh Prince.
Only then did the Seventh Prince accept his fate and approached the Sixth Prince with a solemn instruction, “Big Brother, don’t give up on playing cuju.”
Otherwise, there would be no one to take the last place for the Seventh Prince!
The Sixth Prince, thinking his younger brother was encouraging him, was immediately moved. “I won’t! I’ll keep practicing, and you should practice with me, alright?”
Xue Yao felt his heart almost breaking.
Growing up, the warm and innocent Sixth Prince might end up driven to madness by his scheming little brother!
“Oh, look who’s here?” suddenly came a sly and sarcastic greeting from the sidelines.
Xue Yao’s spine chilled. The memories of his host helped him recognize the voice’s owner.
The Third Prince, dressed in dark green cuju attire, had a ball tucked under his arm. He strolled into the cuju field with the Fourth Prince and a group of attendants, carrying himself with a casual air.
At the sound of this voice, the Seventh Prince’s little ears perked up and trembled. Immediately, he looked around nervously and darted behind the Sixth Prince, his chubby little body slightly trembling in fear.
“Even Old Seventh has been coaxed out? Aiya~” Third Prince wore a mocking expression, exchanged a glance with the Fourth Prince, and said, “How pitiful. Where can this barbaric mongrel kick a cuju match worthy of our Great Qi?”
Xue Yao’s heart pounded. He couldn’t help but glance at the chubby cub hiding behind the Sixth Prince.
He hoped this baby didn’t understand the meaning of “barbaric mongrel.”
After all, the Seventh Prince had at least half royal blood in his veins. The Third Prince’s words were incredibly audacious.
The three usually lively little princes now seemed like statues.
The Fifth Prince, standing pale-faced not far away, gazed at the Third Prince with a despondent expression, too afraid to move a muscle.
The Sixth Prince stared at the Third Prince like a wooden post, slightly parting his small mouth. It was evident that he had a tinge of fear in his expression.
“Old Seventh?” The Third Prince walked over to the Sixth Prince with a cheeky grin. “Why are you hiding from your Third Brother? Come here, Big Brother will treat you to something delicious. Hahahahahaha!”
The Seventh Prince trembled even more.
As the Third Prince approached, the Sixth Prince also began to shiver. However, he didn’t move away. Instead, he shook his hands, slightly opened his arms, protecting his little brother like a mother hen shielding her chicks.
“Oh, is Old Sixth trying to play a game of ‘Eagle Catches the Chicks’ with me?” Tje Third Prince, with an evil smile, looked at the Fourth Prince beside him. “Shall we play?”
The Fourth Prince flattered him with a clap of his hands. “Sure!”
A hint of cruelty flashed in the Third Prince’s eyes as he reached out and grabbed the Sixth Prince’s arm, dragging him over without any delicacy.
“Aaaah!” The Sixth Prince cried out in pain, his eyes welling up with tears.
Xue Yao’s mind went blank, but he stepped forward, pulling the Sixth Prince behind him.
All thoughts of palace rules and status punishments were thrown to the wind.
The Third Prince released his grip on the Sixth Prince’s arm and impatiently looked over.
Xue Yao’s composure slowly returned. His teeth chattered, but he mustered a placating smile. “It’s been so long since I last saw Your Highness. I’ve missed you greatly!”
The Third Prince squinted his eyes and asked, “A’Yao?”
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