13 Not an Angel
The days leisurely went by and soon, a week had passed.
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Duchess Li had requested an Imperial Decree that would make Xueyue her legal daughter. Because Duchess Li had deep connections to the Imperial Palace, the decree came within three days and soon, Bai Xueyue inherited the Li family name.
She was officially Li Xueyue.
Duke Li made sure the entire ordeal was kept private.
None of the nosy scholars or backstabbing ministers heard a single whispers on what happened.
Each servant stayed loyal to their Master because the majority of them were all people hand-picked by the Duke and Duchess, whereas the remainder was people that were offered a second chance at life. Many of the servants used to be orphans from the streets, the unwanted people of society, and the Lis gave them a place to stay.
Because the servants were always well-treated, always had a warm room to sleep under, were generously fed, clothed, and had a good wage, their loyalty was firm. None of them spoke about what happened in the past seven days, and none would dare to.
But Duke and Duchess Li's greatest concern wasn't the court's reaction, it was their eldest sons Li Wenmin and Li Chenyang. They were sixteen now, and it would be hard to force a new sibling onto them.
If they disliked someone, it would be extremely hard to overturn their decision. Xueyue didn't want to suddenly barge into their life and demand a spot as their sister. Instead, she wanted to slowly get to know them.
When Duchess Li offered Xueyue a chance for a proper introduction, Xueyue had politely declined. She knew a forced introduction would not be a good start to their relationship. She wanted to meet them naturally.
But two days had passed and Xueyue hadn't seen any of them. She knew they were always somewhere in the expansive manor and after a few hours of asking servants, she discovered their favorite spot was the training grounds behind the Li Manor.
The training grounds was an enormous open field behind the Li Manor. It had lushious green grass that seemed to stretch for miles on, and the Li twins were often found in that area practicing their swords or horseback riding. Although none of the boys were that good with archery, there was still a few target posts present in the field.
Stepping onto the open field, Xueyue was in the process of tying her long hair into a pony-tail.
The corner of Xueyue's rosy lips tilted up when the spring breeze ran past her, and played with a few strands of her hair. There was the lively chatter of birds nearby and the temperature was perfect.
In a fitted-male robe, Xueyue walked into the field with a bow and quiver in her hands.
Archery used to be her favorite sport and many experts had once called her a "prodigy." She wanted to learn how to wield the bow and arrow after discovering her late mother was amazing at every sport she picked up, and it was evident Xueyue had inherited her mother's stamina.
But Viscountess Bai forced Xueyue to stop her lessons when the praises came rolling in. Originally, Xueyue wanted to please her stepmother because she was the only woman who could fulfill a motherly role.
Obediently obliging to Viscountess Bai's wishes, Xueyue dropped every sport she once played. She stopped practicing archery, martial arts, sword fighting, and horseback riding.
She originally thought her stepmother didn't want to draw attention to the Bai Manor, but after a few weeks of getting to know the woman, Xueyue realized it was because Viscountess Bai didn't want anyone to outshine her true daughter, Tianai.
When Xueyue had found out, she immediately began to practice again. Why should I put a halt to my potentials just to let some other girl outshine me?
But her practice was dropped when Tianai had convinced Leiyu to lie to Xueyue. He had once told her that he hated "masculine" girls who were experts in skills unsuitable for a lady. And because Xueyue was so naively in love with him, she stopped practicing.
Forcing her strong hands to practice the Zither until her fingers bleed, forcing her strengthened body to bend to the traditional flower dances, and constantly prickling her finger on embroidery, Xueyue thought she could earn Leiyu's affection.
It never came.
Xueyue tried to push the back thoughts away. The more she thought about them, the more it would distract her.
Bending down, she plucked a chunk of grass. Rubbing her hands into it, she made sure her hands were dry. Letting the grass fall, Xueyue was able to analyze where the wind was blowing.
In order for one to master the bow, one had to master the wind first.
The wind was blowing west, so she aligned her body for a suitable position.
"Deep breaths..." Xueyue muttered to herself when she loaded the first arrow.
From a distance, there were two boys intently watching Xueyue. They sat beneath a willow tree whose long branches were shades from the bright sun.
As per Duke Li's strict instructions, the boys had been training since the early morning. Their lessons had gone deep into the afternoon, and their instructors just left a few minutes ago.
"Chenyang, do you think she can get a bulls-eye?" Li Wenmin leaned against the tree bark and tilted his head towards his younger brother.
Li Chenyang, the more quiet and colder brother, stared at the girl. His dark eyes twirled with disapproval.
"Thin frame, tiny arms, shaky posture, I doubt it." Chenyang quietly answered. He was known to be cold and indifferent. He rarely spoke to anyone aside from his brother and parents.
Wenmin frowned at his younger brother's words. The girl, indeed seemed weak, but her posture was perfect. "Mother decided to adopt her as our little sister."
Chenyang felt his mood dampen. His eyes tore the girl apart and took in every detail about her.
Long hair that was held up in a high-pony tail, skin as translucent and pale as the rare white jade, hazel eyes fiercer than any girl he has seen, yet soft and delicate features of a porcelain doll, he understood why his mother took a liking to the girl.
She was breathtakingly beautiful at a young age, and with no doubt, her beauty would blossom as she aged. Duchess Li gained not only a daughter, but a suitable girl to marry off in case the Li needed more wealth.
"The first night she came into our Manor, I snuck into her room to catch a glimpse of her. With her eyes closed, she slightly resembled our Minghua. But now that she's awake and her eyes are open, I don't see the similarity anymore..." Wenmin's voice trailed off, and he stopped talking when he saw the dark, gloomy look on Chenyang's face.
"Don't talk about her." Chenyang quietly snarled.
Speaking of Minghua's name was like taboo. His parents might've saw the innocent angel within her, but he knew the truth. Li Minghua was no angel.
Chenyang's eyes never left Xueyue. She was readjusting the tightness of the strings. The more he watched her, the more he felt agitated. "She doesn't belong here-"
Xueyue had released the arrow. It released a light 'ping' and flew into the air.
Wenmin held his breath.
Wenmin could not believe his eyes. The arrow landed perfectly in the center of the farthest target. "No way..." He breathed out in shock.
"That was a lucky shot." Chenyang grumbled. His face was devoid of emotion, but his eyes were more open than before.
Xueyue loaded her second arrow. Now that she had her bow string's perfectly adjusted and the wind had slowed down, she would begin her performance.
Closing her eyes and taking in a deep breath, Xueyue released her second arrow.
Chenyang felt his throat tighten.
The second arrow had not only strike the center, but it had split the first arrow in half!
"Another lucky shot-" Chenyang's voice died out when Xueyue released her third arrow. This time, it went through the second arrow.
And then she loaded her fourth arrow, until all five arrows were used up.
Li Wenmin and Li Chenyang could not believe their eyes. Every arrow had split the one before it and she was aiming for the farthest target!