12 Not an Angel
The days leisurely went by and soon, a week had passed.
Duchess Li Qixing had requested an imperial decree that would make Xueyue her legal daughter. Because Duchess Li Qixing 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 Shenyang made sure the entire ordeal was kept private. None of the nosy scholars or backstabbing ministers heard a single whisper of what happened.
Each servant stayed loyal to their master because the majority of them were hand-picked by the duke and duchess, whereas the remainder were 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 in, 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.
However, Duke and Duchess Li's greatest concern wasn't the court's reaction, but how their eldest sons Li Wenmin and Li Chenyang would react. They were eighteen, 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 Qixing offered Xueyue a chance for a proper introduction, she 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. After asking a few hesitant servants, she finally discovered the twin's favorite spot was the training grounds behind the Li Manor.
The training grounds were an enormous open field behind the Li Manor. It had luscious green grass that seemed to stretch for miles on. 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 were 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 ponytail. The corner of her rosy lips tilted up when the spring breeze whirled past her, and played with her hair. In a fitted training robe, she walked into the field with a bow and quiver in her hands.
Archery was a sport she exceptionally excelled in. She didn't know where and how she picked up on it, but eventually, it was the only thing she found happiness within. However, the glee was short-lived when the viscountess forbade Xueyue from attending her lessons. The viscountess had feared the sport would make her too masculine to appeal to a suitor. Eager to please her mother in any way she could, she dropped the sport along with martial arts, sword fighting, and horseback riding.
At first, Xueyue was reluctant to practice other hobbies. But the viscountess had convinced Leiyu to convince Xueyue to pick up on things that were unsuitable for her. The naive little Xueyue believed in him more than anyone in the world. Thus, she forced her strong fingers to practice the zither until her fingers bleed. Her strengthened body was starved in order to be molded into a "perfect aristocratic daughter" who excelled in flower dances. Her fingers were constantly pricked by the embroidery that her hands were always covered with bandages. She did all of it to earn the viscountess and Leiyu's affection. She never received any of it.
Xueyue tried to push the unhappy thoughts away. The more she thought about them, the more her heart burned with vows of vengeance.
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.
Since the wind blew west, she aligned her body for a suitable position. "Deep breaths..." she muttered to herself when she loaded the first arrow.
From a distance, there were two boys intently watching Xueyue. They sat under a willow tree whose long branches were shades from the bright sun. As per Duke Li Shenyang'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, what do you think about the odds of her getting a bullseye?" Li Wenmin leaned against the tree bark and tilted his head towards his younger brother.
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Li Chenyang, the quieter and colder brother, stared at the girl. His dark eyes twirled with disapproval. "Thin frame, tiny arms, shaky posture, I doubt it," he quietly answered.
Li Wenmin nodded his head in agreement, but felt a slight hint of doubt. She was, indeed, very frail, but her posture seemed flawless. It was as if she had practiced this form many times before. "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 ponytail, 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 Qixing gained not only a daughter, but a suitable girl to marry off in case the Li Family 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..." Li Wenmin's voice trailed off, and he stopped talking when he saw the dark, gloomy look on Chenyang's face.
Li Chenyang quietly snarled, "Don't talk about her." Speaking Li Minghua's name was like a taboo. His parents might've seen the innocent angel within her, but he knew the truth. Li Minghua was no angel.
Li 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.
Li Wenmin held his breath.
Li 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.
Xueyue loaded her second arrow. Now that she had her bowstring 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 struck 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.