"They are alone..." Hu Zi, who couldn’t sense the tension and sparks in the air anymore, realized that the Qing twins didn’t have a single maid or servant following them, which was quite rare for high-ranking noble children.
The Hu siblings always had someone following them closely. After that day they lost Hu Zi in last year's winter festival, the tall and bulky strong presence guards were shifted and changed to those of swifter and stealthier abilities. The Great General instructed them to watch the kids closely in the dark. Except for the times when Hu Zi went to the mountain or was practicing with Master Shou and couldn’t be disturbed, her family guards would always be with her. With Hu Zi's ability, she could tell her guards’ positions if she concentrated. But as she concentrated now, she can't feel anyone watching the twins attentively like her own guards at all.
After he heard what Hu Zi said, Hu Ye thought about Qing Guang and Qing Li. He found the contrast in treatment between the two daughters of the Qing family to be rather unsettling, no matter if it were their dressing or the number of people who guarded their backs. “Hmm… but I do think it is a win-win deal...” Hu Ye felt guilty for making use of Qing Guang’s weakness.
"What are you thinking about, Fourth Brother?” Hu Bai said before one of Qing Li's maid 'accidentally' bumped into her, making her stagger. “Oh!" Just as she was about to tip and fall over, Zhi Yu caught her waist with his left arm, his right arm still securely holding onto Hu Zi.
“Eldest Young Miss, are you okay?” He said, steadying her.
“Ah, umm, yeah... thank, thank you…” Hu Bai replied.
Zhi Yu had an elegant smile as he took her hand so she would not fall again. When she felt his hand firmly holding hers, Hu Bai felt like her heart was jumping up and down in her chest. Her face was burning, making it visibly red. It was so red that Hu Cheng Se decided to give her a sweet ice cake to bring down the heat.
"It is autumn, but someone is in spring." Hu Zi grinned.
Hu Ye, who was young but always cautious and attentive about his sisters naturally knew what she meant. He breathed a helpless sigh.
“What do you mean, Third Sister?” Hu Cheng Se said with a questioning look.
“Nothing.” Hu Zi chuckled.
Unlike her sister Hu Bai, who learned embroidery, Hu Zi decided to do small things like sewing and making accessories from marbles and thread.
She unexpectedly made a good piece that even Hu Cheng Se, who usually was not into this stuff, stared at it blankly. Hu Zi decided to give it to Hu Ye, who gave it to Qing Guang because she lacked accessories. He didn't realize that Qing Guang always remembered it as a debt and always told herself that she’d pay it back.
One day inside the practice hall.
"Xiao Zi!" Shou appeared out of the blue, kicking the practice hall door open. "Look at... I mean, feel this!"
“Come here!” He dragged her outside and into the simple and plain courtyard next to the practice hall. "Xiao Zi, get in!" The courtyard seemed to have something different planted in its garden. She smelt small chrysanthemum flowers. It seemed like these were planted a bit early in the spring. "Can you feel it?”
“I asked the general if I could plant some of my favorite flowers here. You love gardening, don’t you? Help me grow these flowers, okay?"
The flowers were the four seasonal flowers: orchid, bamboo, chrysanthemum, and plum tree. It made the solemn courtyard lively. Shou had been planting these flowers since early this spring; they were still small and needed lots of care.
“They have nice scents.” She commented.
"You should come here often and smell all four every day."
"The scents of four different seasons!" Hu Zi's eyes were wide open, revealing her twinkling purple eyes.
Seeing that his plan was working, Shou showed a victorious smirk.
"I will sleep here for the night," he said after planting autumn mulch on the chrysanthemum's grounds. "You can sleep with me if you want. If you do this in the morning, I will tell you a faster and better technique for your training."
Hu Zi grabbed her practice fan, determined to finish the feeling and sensing training so she could be independent soon and chase her dream of traveling around the world.
"Alright!" she said with determination. Shou grinned at her response.
Now he could sit back and relax while she did all the work.
Hu Zi helped Shou take care of the flowers while practicing hard every day.
Years passed by in a flash.
Qing Guang, now twelve-years-old, found an injured baby bird below a tree next to the archery training hall. She couldn't freely raise the bird at her family’s manor so she told Hu Ye to help her keep it. In return, when the bird grew up, they could roast it together.
“...” Hu Ye was speechless for a long time when he first heard her idea. Then, raising an eyebrow, he said, “Umm… Let me hear it once again. You want to eat the poor bird?”
“I need to go. Make sure you feed it often to fatten it up. Skinny birds do not have enough meat for two people,” Qing Guang said as she turned her back and walked away.
“...” Hu Ye looked at the poor baby bird and sighed heavily. He decided to bring it home and raised it in his spacious courtyard.
While Hu Zi had stopped going to school in order to focus on her training with Shou, Hu Ye skipped grades. As the only son and heir of the Great General’s household, he planned to be in the same grade at his oldest sister, Hu Bai, but instead, he only ended up in the same grade as Hu Cheng Se.
The reason he couldn't advance and skip that grade was because of the Qing twins. Their perfect scores skewed the average score for the grade, making it very high and the grade almost impossible to skip.
"What exactly are their brain made up of?" Hu Cheng Se said to Hu Ye, who sat next to her.
He frowned. “Those two sure are something, huh?”
“Yeah…” Hu Cheng Se stared at the twins that were sitting on the front line. “They sure are.”
Hu Bai grew up more beautiful with every single passing night. Her beauty was not the only thing that advanced; her needlework ability increased greatly too. She sewed many of her siblings’ clothes. She also sewed some clothes for her parents, which the general liked so much he wore them almost every day. With Lady Hua and Hu Zi's help, Hu Bai made accessories for the servants. Everyone, even the small workers in the household, got some of her exquisite, beautiful, and dainty needlework.
Everyone except for one person, Head Housekeeper Zhi Yu.
He didn’t seem to mind much about it.
But the truth is, his chest felt a bit cold when Falcon showed off to him.
"I wonder if Eldest Miss hates me." As the oldest of the Hu siblings, Hu Bai was naturally the mistress he looked after the longest. He could still recall her chubby face when she ate the desserts he made for her when she was a toddler.
Hu Zi, who came back with Shou from the training hall, laughed in the face of Zhi Yu's worries until she was hit with a stomach ache. She informed him that it was not the case at all.