3 Once in a Lifetime
Deep in thought, Yuxi didn't realize she had caught the attention of the mysterious man in the corner of the room. He was the only man present from the Chen family, but his presence was the only thing she needed.
Yuxi immediately recognized that man. She had only seen him once in her lifetime and was surprised to see him.
She was her mother's father and the most important man of the Chen household.
"Grandfather." Yuxi breathed out, as she slowly stood up from the floor.
Everyone followed her gaze and saw the great Chen Moyao. He was one of the greatest Commander of his time and was known for his grand achievements of taking on 150,000 enemy soldiers with 1,500 men on his side. His name would go down in history books to be remembered for centuries to come.
"Zhao Yuxi." The Commander greeted with a very satisfied expression on his face.
It was a pleasant surprise to see his granddaughter had remembered his face. He only visited her once, and it was on her fifth birthday. And on that day, he gave her the greatest present of all: acknowledgement from him. She was branded as the Commander's only granddaughter.
Despite the fact that he had multiple daughters and even more granddaughters, she was the first and only one that was ever acknowledged and accepted by him.
Out of all of the granddaughters that he's met, she was the first to not cry or hide at the appearance of his face. Though it was old and grumpy, there was a long scar that ran from his chin all the way to his forehead. The old knife wound had luckily missed his eye by the tiniest inch.
Instead of whining or hiding at the sight of her fearsome grandfather, little Yuxi who was barely five years old, had gracefully acknowledged her grandfather with a bright and innocent smile befitting of her age.
Commander Moyao remembered the smile, for it was the seed that peaked his interest.
Now that Yuxi had properly remembered him and boldly addressed him as grandfather, instead of 'Commander Moyao' like the rest of his granddaughter, the tiny seed just got its first droplet of water.
"Come here child, let this old man see your face more clearer." The Commander beckoned the child forward.
Yueluo exchanged looks with his brothers. He was beginning to grow extremely nervous. With deep-rooted connections to the Royal Palace and immense wealth, Commander Moyao was indeed, qualified as a guardian.
"You look exactly like your mother, down to the last strand of your hair." Commander Moyao commented, the minute Yuxi stepped closer to him.
"I believe she looks more like Zhao Yulong-" The eldest Uncle immediately quieted down with one murderous look from Commander Moyao.
The eldest uncle was wise to not speak against the wishes of the Commander. To offend him was to offend the entire Chen family and that was something no one could afford, not even the great Emperor of Houling himself.
"Zhao Yuxi, have you come to your decision?" The Eunuch questioned, watching the child's determined gaze.
She slowly nodded.
Lowering herself onto the floor with her right hand resting over her left hand, she humbly bowed to her grandfather.
"You shouldn't bow to family. Get up, child." Though the Commander had a scolding tone, his eyes were filled with satisfaction. The child was well-mannered and knew how to respect elders.
"Grandfather, I deeply apologize for disobeying this order of yours. But please allow Yuxi to ask a selfish request that only you could fulfill." Yuxi raised her head, revealing the fierce stubbornness in her eyes.
"Oh? Is there something you need?" The Commander countered with an intrigued expression.
"Please allow me to abandon the Zhao family name in exchange for the Chen family name. Please allow me to become the first granddaughter of the great Commander Chen Moyao."
For the first time since Yuxi entered the throne room, the Emperor smiled. The ministers and scholars were surprised at the small smile.
"As expected of Yulong's child, she is a smart one." The Emperor whispered to his wife who slowly nodded.
"I purposely gave her guardianship to Zhao Yueluo, but it seems she has found herself the hidden triumph card." The Emperor smirked at the child's intelligence. She was smart enough to choose the wealthiest and most powerful man from both families.
"Why do you make this request?" The Commander leaned forward, extremely intrigued by the child's words.
Her eyes flared a flame brighter than the wings of a phoenix. "When I look at the Zhao family, I see my greedy uncles and aunts...There is no place for me in their hearts. I will never receive protection from them." Yuxi declared with a firm and unwavering voice. She was determined on her words and this intrigued the Commander.
"Yuxi, you're the only heir to Yulong's fortune! If you give up his name, you will never be able to redeem your inheritance!" Zhao Yueluo spoke up, his face red with anger.
Though his sentence revealed his greed, it voiced the opinions of all of the uncles.
The Eunuch opened his mouth to counter Yueluo's words, but the Emperor raised his hand to silence him.
"Be it Zhao Yuxi or Chen Yuxi, I am the same child who shared half of Zhao Yulong and Chen Xiyue's blood. As long as my head remains in tact and my blood runs true, I will always be the heir of the Zhao fortune."
"You must bare the Zhao family name for you to inherit your fortune! You cannot abandon your name for one so foreign!"
"You dare address the Chen as unfamiliar?" The Commander roared, slamming his fist on the table besides him. A slight crack formed on the surface.
Frightened and embarrassed, the third uncle immediately got onto his knees. He bowed in fear of disrespecting the Commander.
Frightened and on the floor, the eldest Uncle immediately got onto his knees and bowed low in fear of disrespecting the Commander.
When he was calm, Commander Moyao was like an ancient and harmless fox whose favorite activity was basking in the sun. But provoked and tempered with, the fox will become a ferocious tiger.
"This lowly man has wronged you, please forgive me-"
"Why would you ask forgiveness from a stranger?" The Commander taunted, his voice chilling and mocking.
The eldest Uncle felt a shiver pass through his spine at the silent message behind the Commander's words. Once a stranger, always a stranger. The men of the Zhao family will forever remain someone inferior to the Commander.
"Come here child, you will be safe by my side." Commander Moyao beckoned Yuxi forward. His voice was still angry and rough.
Upon sensing the hesitation in Yuxi for using such a scary voice, he tried to soften his expression to please the supposedly frightened child.
Truth to be told, Yuxi was not afraid. But she needed to make the Commander know treating her with roughness will not be acceptable. She didn't want the Commander to be so cold and temperamental towards her.
The Commander cleared his throat. "Yuxi, come to me. There are lanterns surrounding me, it will be warmer here." Commander Moyao's voice was gentle and soft, like the lightest touch of cotton.
The men were all shocked at the sound of his voice. They've heard the rumors about him, and neither of them said he could use such a sweet voice.
Yuxi's eyes traveled to the small fire lanterns that was placed around him. Seeing his temper was reigned back, Yuxi stepped closer to him.
The Emperor nodded his head towards the Eunuch who immediately spoke up.
"Under guardianship and relative relations, Zhao Yuxi will take over the Chen family name. And until the end of her time, or shall she wed and take her husband's name, will forever be Chen Yuxi." He unrolled the scroll by his side and held it up, to let the people see the decree.
"As long as Chen Yuxi bares the physical mark of a Zhao, she will always have the inheritance of Zhao Yulong and Chen Xiyue!" The Eunuch announced, presenting Yuxi and Commander Moyao with a red stamp.
Pressing their thumbs onto the scroll, the decree was solidified. None of the Zhao men will have Yuxi's enormous inheritance, but that won't stop them from trying.
Every child born underneath the Zhao family name, there will always be a physical crest on their upper left arm.
It was brutally and painstakingly carved onto the baby as a child.
But for Zhao Yulong who never wanted his firstborn, especially a daughter, to suffer such pains, he had a blacksmith carve a branding seal.
It was better than the knife whose work will take hours. The pain would be too excruciating for little babies and Yulong knew the brand would only burn for a few seconds. He had immediately applied ice to the wound in hopes of settling the pain.
The crest was extremely tiny. The symbol of the Zhao was a crescent moon with a sword pierced through it. The mark was permanent and can never be erased.
"Follow me, Yuxi." The Commander stood up from the chair with the support of his cane. In reality, the cane wasn't meant for support.
The Commander's body was perfectly fine and didn't need one. But to keep up the facade of a weak grandpa, he used it to catch his enemies off guard. The cane was a hidden sword coated with a lethal poison.
Upon sensing the move of their master, the shadow men that hid in the darkness, finally stepped out of the shadows. It immediately surprised the Zhao men who thought Moyao came without protection.
"Come child, let's go home." For the first time, the Commander offered his hand to his granddaughter.
The hand was rough and calloused from wielding the sword for so long, but the hand seemed gentle and kind. Placing her tiny palm onto it, he softly wrapped his hand around her delicate one.
"Little Yuxi, are you really turning your back to your uncles?" Zhao Yueluo spoke up, immediately following the child.
"I am not turning my back to my uncles. I am turning my back to greedy men who want nothing else, but the money that I can offer." The chilling voice of Yuxi reminded the uncles of their previously eldest brother, Zhao Yulong. Before his death, he was the eldest and the wisest out of the Zhao men.
"Child, don't pay these men any mind. Come now, the carriage is waiting outside." Moyao lead the small child to the door.
Though his ruthless expression didn't say anything, his eyes revealed the satisfaction and intrigue he had in Yuxi.
He didn't know a spoiled brat can make such expressions. He brushed it aside, as the mere confidence of a child who realized they needed to fend for themselves.
Once they reach the entrance of the Palace where the carriages were waiting, the Chen servants immediately came forward. Using enormous umbrellas to shelter Moyao and Yuxi, their eyes were filled with curiosity.
They only heard the loud announcement of the Eunuch, never the words of Moyao.
Using his cane to walk, he feigned weakness in front of everyone. Only his closet servants know the cane was fake. He lead Yuxi to a modest on the outside, but luxurious on the inside carriage. It was plain on the outside, so that it didn't garner the attention of passing thieves.
The servants helped Yuxi into the carriage first. Sitting close to the entrance of the carriage, Yuxi helped her grandfather settle his cane and then placed a blanket around him.
This prompted not only his respect and future adoration, but it awed the servant to see such a small respective child.
The Commander lightly patted Yuxi's head upon seeing her struggle. Her arm and hand were too tiny to place the blanket around his thigh, but he felt too guilty to stop a child who was working so hard.
"You should rest, child. The journey to Leijing will be long and tiring." And Yuxi did just that. For once in a long time, Yuxi fell asleep in a blanket of warmth and comfort.