The name Hu Zi* belonged to a girl who was well known throughout the capital city of Jin for having a unique eye color.
Her given name, Zi, was named for the very color of her eyes. The color purple.
Her purple eyes were dazzling and enchanting, as if they came from another world, the kind that only immortals possessed. Those eyes were so desirable but no one envied her or wanted to have eyes like hers.
Not even Hu Zi herself wanted to have them.
Because her eyes were useless. Meaningless decorations. Hu Zi had never seen light in her seven years of life.
She was blind.
Despite the ordeals of being a handicap, Hu Zi could be called the luckiest person in that period of time, for she chose the best household to be born into and ended up having the blood of the Hu family, one of the most prestigious families in the Jin Empire.
In this ancient setting, it was common to have a dozen concubines and a set of wives.
The Great General Hu Quan Li, however, only had one wife.
From his only wife, he had four children.
Hu Zi had two older sisters and one younger brother. Her oldest sister, Hu Bai*, was a very beautiful, intelligent lady. Her second sister, Hu Cheng Se*, had sharp eyes, a sharp tongue, and the ability to think far ahead, making her a formidable opponent even for boys. Her only brother, Hu Ye*, was a promising youth that was well versed in the art of word and was able to wield a sword at the tender age of four.
In their empire of Jin, which valued a woman’s intelligence and level of education just as much as her beauty, even a small maid could fly and become a phoenix or an empress if she had the capability. All she needed to do in order to get exposure was to compete in an annual district selection and win the once every five-years competition at the capital.
The last one to become a phoenix through this method was the previous empress dowager, who came from a small family of farmers. There is also Concubine Yue of the current emperor, whose family owned a small inn in the far east, near the border.
Most of the time, this was good news for women all over the kingdom. The peasants had a chance to improve their living standards while the nobles used their resources to find a good school for their children, keeping a firm hold of their position.
Unfortunately, this was not good news for our blind Third Young Miss: she couldn't read.
The Great General and his wife did not give up; they taught Hu Zi other things besides reading, such as cooking, gardening, and dancing. Apparently, Hu Zi showed a high interest but an extreme lack of talent for playing music and singing, so they didn't pursue those.
Hu Zi also attended the school like other girls her own age, but she only attended cooking and dancing classes. She never went into a normal classroom.
Her second sister, Hu Cheng Se, had other ideas. Each night in their shared room, she snuck into Hu Zi’s bed to tell her what she learned in class that day. She firmly believed her younger sister was something else and didn’t want her to be completely unaware of the world of literature.
In the afternoon, a young girl of age seven was waiting below the peach blossom tree. She opened her lunch box and took a whiff of the sweets inside, which she and her mother had made for her siblings.
Bundled in thick winter clothes, she sat on the wooden bench, where the air around her was cold but not unbearable. Although her maids told her to wait inside where it is warmer, she had insisted on waiting in the garden.
Sitting there, she kept her eyes closed, rarely ever opening them. Her world was always dark, nothing but emptiness residing there, so there was no real need to open them.
Due to the school’s regulations, her maids retreated once they dropped her off at the school ground, where she patiently waited for her siblings’ class to be dismissed. There was only literature class this morning, so they would be out soon.
Her eyes opened and landed on the sweets, staring at them blankly. Although she never complained, it didn’t mean she was completely content with it at all. She was only a seven-years-old child; not knowing how her own homemade cooking looked like when everyone else did was simply painful. Moreover, there was something else that disturbed her mind...
When she closed her eyes again, hiding those beautiful violet eyes behind her snow-white lids, someone shouted, "Look! It's the Great General household’s family waste!"
The disturbance came from a boy that walked out from the corridor and stopped four paces away from where she sat. Despite his youth, he carried an aura of dignity and power, his voice noble and gentle like a refined scholar. He was Qing Bo*, the heir of the left chancellor's family.
"There are no lessons for trash today. So trash, I advise you to walk out! We need to keep this place clean and unpolluted in order to focus on our studies."
"Older brother, you should refrain from being too harsh on the Hu family’s young miss." The other person by his side was his younger twin sister, Qing Guang*, who had a cold and disdainful attitude. They were both in the same grade as Hu Zi's second sister, Hu Cheng Se, who was two years older than Hu Zi.
"Too harsh? I'm just stating the truth." A sneer appeared on Qing Bo's face.
The kids behind the twins laughed heartily, most of them being the rich young children of high ranking officials. Their disdain came naturally, stemming from the jealousy and envy their own fathers held for Hu Zi's father, who was well loved and praised by the commoners.
To console their own dampered pride, they liked to find faults in the Great General's family. The faulty blind miss happened to be their biggest target.
Contrary to what they were expecting, the blind young girl did not cower in the face of their mocking.
"Heh..." Hu Zi smirked, looking unbothered by their taunting; she was used to this child’s play.
"Hu Third Miss, did you smirk at me just now?" Qing Bo never liked this unyielding smug face of hers.
"Qing Young Master, it may be true that there are no trash lessons today and trash should not come here, but can either be compared to giving trash proposals? That trash of an official should never come to the court!"
The children gasped at this and whispered among themselves, throwing looks at the Qing twins, who were calm on the surface but had their hearts in chaos.
The trash proposal that Hu Zi mentioned was not a secret among the circle of their society. It was known that about a month ago, there was a flood in the southwest side of the capital near Shi River, where the climate was warmer. Many people died and even more were injured or displaced. To lessen the casualties, the capital sent reinforcements, provisions, and food. It was a good idea but the official who proposed the plan overlooked a crucial point.
To reach the flooded area as soon as possible, they needed to take a shortcut that was a lone path that went through a narrow valley. With the rain frequencies there in the past months, it was no surprise that the reinforcements ended up being trapped because of landslides. Only after six days were they finally able to get free, but the casualties were not small.
It so happens that the one who took initiative and gave these reckless ideas to the emperor was the Qing family's head, the left chancellor, their father.
By bringing the matter up and reminding them of this stain on their family’s pride, Hu Zi had utterly shamed them in front of everyone and ignited the enmity in their hearts.
"Hu family’s third young miss, Hu Zi! Today, this young master is going to teach you a lesson about where an illiterate woman like you should stand. Be grateful!" Qing Bo’s eyes flashed as he took a basin of dirty water from a nearby sink.
"Pfft, I am always grateful!" Hu Zi stood straight in front of him.
This is only served to enrage Qing Bo further. Lifting the basin, he prepared to dump all its contents on her.
Drip drip drip...
Everybody was shocked because they didn't see Hu Zi’s clothes getting drenched at all. In fact, the one who got wet was Qing Bo.
"Hu Ye!" Qing Bo was about to erupt at the six-year-old boy who stood in front of him with an indifferent face. It was early winter, and though the snow had not fallen yet, the winter breeze was not kind at all.
"Pathetic seniors, scram," said Hu Ye in a monotone voice. Just before the water could pour on Hu Zi, he had grabbed Qing Bo's hands and caused the water basin to rotate, throwing the water in a different direction. The dirty, blackish water fell onto Qing Bo instead. Hu Ye took a few steps back and covered his sister's small body with his own.
"You... How dare you!" Qing Guang spoke each word in an extremely cold tone.
"How dare you bully my precious sister!" Hu Cheng Se came running and purposely emphasized the word 'bully'. Her voice was low but clear, the volume enough for the people in the vicinity to hear.
In an instant, the windows of the classrooms near the garden opened, the people inside curious as to what was going on. Bullying was one of the most sensitive topics in a school full of high-ranking officials’ sons and daughters.
Qing Bo sneered at the new girl. "Heh, if it isn’t the Hu Second Miss! Here to save your little sister by falsely accusing us?" Even though he used the formal and proper way to address her, it came out rather sarcastic instead of polite.
"Be careful, Qing Young Master,” she said with just as much sarcasm in the address, “Remember your family’s name... You will not be the only one being dragged by your pathetic actions." Hu Cheng Se's eyes glinted. She was ready for a round of banter with Qing Bo.
"Oh? You dare bring up my family right after you throw the word ‘bully’ at me?" Qing Bo's sharp eyes stared hatefully at Hu Cheng Se.
"Do you think I would not dare after seeing with my own eyes how you almost poured mop water on my precious sister?"
"Oh no, I bet you do dare accuse my Qing family. Branding our honorable Qing family’s name with a false and biased label!"
"You bullying my sister is not a branding, it is the truth!”
"What I do is not bullying, it is teaching!"
"What kind of teacher does this to his student?"
"Your sister is a bit special, you acknowledged that yourself! She cannot be taught by normal teachers." Qing Bo smirked, starting to enjoy himself despite standing in the cold weather in drenched, dirty clothing.
"Qing Bo, you..." Hu Cheng Se's eyes widened, finally realizing his intentions. Her opponent wanted to highlight Hu Zi's disability loud and clear right in front of her in order to make her feel miserable. Hu Cheng Se looked at Hu Zi in a flash, only to see that her head was bowed, obscuring her expression behind inky black hair.
"That is two hundred and seventy-eight wins for me, Hu Second Miss. I am leading by two rounds,” Qing Bo said, settling and counting their scores.
"Tch!" Hu Cheng Se clicked her tongue. Qing Bo definitely wanted to destroy her sister from the inside out! Although she knew she should stop now, Hu Cheng Se couldn’t help but ransack her brain, trying to come up with a retaliation.
Most of the time, she was quick witted and did not care who she offended in the process, but when it came to Hu Zi’s feelings, she could not be careless, and had to tread more carefully.
Qing Bo stood in front of Hu Cheng Se and said, “Do you know how many people want to teach your spoiled and useless little sister a lesson? We, the children of Jin, need to study hard every day in order to bring honor and glory to our family. How do you think we feel seeing a useless girl managing to get whatever she wants? You should know, even if I don't teach her, someone else will."
Hu Ye frowned, knowing that in terms of banter, Hu Cheng Se was the best out of the Hu siblings, wielding her words like a sharp dagger. If even Hu Cheng Se could not defend Hu Zi, neither could he.
Hu Chenge Se did not reply for a while, worried that if she said one wrong word, they’d be finished.
Seeing her still thinking, Qing Bo made a mocking face and stepped forward. Hu Ye immediately became alerted at this and took a defensive stance beside Hu Cheng Se, but Qing Bo’s next words were not directed at her.
"Hu Third Young Miss, see... You are blind, worthless and flawed, but you have strong and smart people backing you."
He spoke slowly, making sure Hu Zi heard everything. Seeing her darkening expression, he felt satisfaction. He smiled when he said, "Your siblings and your family’s background are the only reasons you can still be at ease, eat warm food, sleep on a warm bed, and sit here idly every d—"
Before Qing Bo could finish his sentence, a jade hairpin flew through the air. Eyes widening, he didn’t have the chance to do anything before it hit him just below his left eye. "Agh!" he shouted in surprise and pain, the shock causing him to stumble and fall.
"Brother!" Qing Guang ran forward toward him.
"Qing Young Master, please keep talking so I could make the same fate out of you!"
This beautiful and magnetic voice could only belong to a single person. The eldest daughter of the Hu household, Hu Bai.
She carried a different aura from the rest of this world, the very air around her distinguished and noble. With her beautiful appearance and high education, she was very likely be chosen as the future crown princess. Everyone on the scene unconsciously held their breath, all in awe.
This ten-year-old girl was not someone you could afford to offend. As the eldest of four siblings, her high sense of responsibility made her very protective of her younger siblings.
It was the first time they ever saw Hu Bai like this, her brows furrowed in anger and eyes narrowed. It seemed like the Qing siblings really took it too far this time.
This wasn’t the first time the Qing twins and Hu siblings got into a fight but those previous times it was mostly just verbal abuse. No matter how rotten Qing Bo and his sister were, they were also pretty smart. They knew that if they hurt the little blind miss too much, the principal would call them to his office. The Qing twins’ family was powerful, but so was the Great General’s.
Knowing that they could not afford to retaliate, Qing Bo grabbed Qing Guang's hand and signaled a retreat. Before he turned his back, he halted and looked at Hu Zi with contempt.
Everyone was so focused on the three Hu siblings who saved the day that they didn't realize that Hu Zi had her head facing the ground. She opened her eyelids a crack, her purple eyes becoming wet.
"I am useless, I am only living comfortably in this beautiful city and receiving care and education because of my family... I know that!"