Within what appeared to have been a period of several breaths, autumn receded to a bitter winter.
Each day was considerably colder than before, with snow constantly raining onto the already frozen ground.
The streets of Jiang’an remained open, though not many people dared to tour the roads of wealth under such miserable conditions.
Hence, though one could see lines of merchants and stores opened on the major pathways, it was obvious that many had withdrawn into safer confines.
The bustling sounds of youth and boisterous exchange among citizens had dwindled, with only the footsteps of the occasional military patrol resounding in the granite corridor.
The Young Masters and Young Misses no longer visited their poetry gatherings, nor did the scholars attend to their Scholar’s Associations or residences.
The snow continued to fall, accumulating to form a thick layer of white on the ground. Wherever one would turn, all that would stare back was a glaring, blinding sea of white that couldn’t be removed regardless of the cost.
Melt it, and invite a disaster of ice; shovel it away, but where to?
Thus, the citizens merely withdrew into their shells, not even daring to issue servants to clear the streets or the courtyards in their manors. The Imperial Court remained shut with an iron chain, though the primary reason was not snow, but something else entirely…
“Only two weeks to go…” Wei Xuan murmured, peeking out of the oiled paper window to glare at the sea of snow that had devoured his residence. The snow glared back, forcing the former to flinch and cover his eyes from the reflected sunlight.
“Will the Pagoda of Sun and Moon even manage to open at this rate…?”
“Father, did you say something?”
A quiet voice called from the depths of the study, spreading an involuntary but heartfelt smile across Wei Xuan’s countenance.
Closing the window and sealing it shut, he handed a scroll to the nearby Xiao Ying tending to a stack of books, before heading towards the drawing table in the center.
There, sat a girl in a coat of scarlet fox fur, writing onto a sheet of stationary paper with a brush of weasel hair.
“Something wrong?” Wei Xuan called out, giving the girl a light pat on the head.
“Let Father check your work, it’s already been an hour.”
Ignoring the girl’s protests, the minister’s right arm swooped in to snatch the sheet of paper away. Bringing before his eyes, the minister began to read with an amused tone.
“G-Give it back!”
“The nature of man is to possess and discard,” Wei Xuan read whilst dodging the girl’s feeble swipes and lunges.
“Accelerating to his death, man snatches useless gold and silver, discarding the essence of life and nature – Fei’er, why are you practicing with such a statement?”
An Fei came to a halt as she glared at the amused Wei Xuan, who took the initiative to dangle the sheet of stationary paper before her hands. Ignoring his gloats and panting heavily to regain her breath, the girl pointed towards the opened book on the drawing table.
“Xiao Ying brought out a random book. I just copied what’s on the page.”
Raising an eyebrow in curiosity, the minister picked up the book, stroking the cover before scanning the page. Just a moment later, however, Wei Xuan released a light sigh before walking towards the girl.
Reaching over, he pushed her onto the half-moon chair, before grasping her right arm with his fingers.
“You have the content copied accurately,” the minister guided An Fei in writing the statement again, his fingers manipulating her wrist to twirl the brush on the paper.
“But the essence was portrayed wrong. For a passage from a book written by a person of great caliber as this, one must carefully assess the interior meaning of the content. Rash copying and memorization without understanding the underlying concept will simply result in a distorted mind.”
“Remember, every action in calligraphy is initiated by the wrist. The hand, fingers, and arm only follow the movements you make with the wrist, allowing the brush to transverse across the medium without any interruption. This is the fundamental principle behind calligraphy, but is one that is often not comprehended well by those claiming to be scholars.”
“All in the wrist…” An Fei murmured, her eyes following the movements of her wrist guided by Wei Xuan.
“But why can’t I write using my fingers?”
“Fingers?” the minister echoed, letting go of the girl’s wrist.
Observing her fingers as they slid down the brush’s length to rest just above its base, Wei Xuan narrowed his eyes before rubbing his chin in thought.
From a single glance, he couldn’t determine any critical aspect or misinterpreted position, causing him to furrow his brows.
“Then let’s see you copy the statement above,” he finally spoke.
“After that, we can compare before deciding what fits best for you.”
An Fei nodded, before copying the statement for the fifth time. Each character was compact and refined, the strokes emitted by the brush controlled to the maximum to enhance the speed and agility as it scrolled past the sheet of paper.
Flicking her fingers to move the brush whilst balancing the majority of her momentum on her wrist, only the brush’s tip managed to touch the paper, producing a small string of characters within a matter of seconds. By the time Wei Xuan had appreciated the first symbol, An Fei had finished the entire statement.
“This… was something you learned in your dream?” the minister picked up the sheet of paper, his eyes inspecting the newest string of characters. Soon after, he raised his head to stare at the girl in astonishment, as well as a mix of uncertainty.
“Transcribing the statement’s content with an emphasis on the external meaning, leaving the essence open to individual interpretation… Not to mention that this technique is significantly faster than the Small Hairpin Script, even if it was lacking in the elegance and refinement of writing… Fei’er, how did you learn such a technique?”
The girl tilted her head to the side in confusion, her fingers reaching for the sheet of paper in the minister’s hands. Grinding a fresh batch of ink before starting a new line of characters, An Fei nonchalantly replied, her eyes focused onto the moving brush.
“Father, everyone learned this technique in my dream,” the girl eventually spoke as her wrist methodically pronated before flinging the brush and a trail of ink across the sheet of stationary paper.
“…this was the only method of writing we learned.”
“Learned…” Wei Xuan repeated, noticing the girl’s gloomy gaze. Stepping forward to rub her hair, the minister consoled her in a gentle tone.
“You can always learn more. There’s nothing holding you back from achieving your desires.”
“Master, Fourth Young Miss, it’s time for the afternoon exercise session,” Xiao Ying’s excited voice suddenly rang from the fringe of the study.
“This servant has already contacted Sister Wen to prepare a scrumptious meal once the Fourth Young Miss finished her exercise.”
At the maidservant’s words, two countenances immediately changed color.
The stalwart, handsome face immediately reddened in embarrassment, whilst the budding and delicate face blanched. Wei Xuan turned to the side and coughed, averting his gaze away from An Fei’s terrified expression.
The maidservant, master, and Fourth Young Miss of Wei all stared at each other in an awkward silence, neither willing to say a single word.
“Then, I’ll be going outside for a bit.” The minister finally broke the forced tranquility with a fierce cough.
“Xiao Ying, do remember Fei’er’s physique.”
“Fourth Young Miss, Fourth Young Miss, ah,” the maidservant quickly rushed forward to restrict An Fei’s arms, wrapping the struggling girl in a pressuring embrace.
Gesturing for the minister to quickly depart, Xiao Ying revealed a roguish leer towards aggrieved girl, pushing her towards the deepest recesses of the study.
Shaking his head while awkwardly laughing, Wei Xuan didn’t forget to seal every window, even going to the extent of drawing each curtain shut within the study. Accomplishing his task, the minister abruptly fled towards the outside, locking the door with a thread of spiritual essence.
“I’ll just guard outside then,” Wei Xuan consoled himself with a bitter smile.
“Aih, if it were either Shuyan or Miaolan in there, this minister wouldn’t have hesitated to remain and assist…hehe.”
Crossing his arms before his chest and leaning against the study’s entrance, Wei Xuan willed his spiritual essence to expand in a spherical region, isolating the study from the onslaught of snow and cold.
The falling snow accumulated onto the barrier, trickling down the sides of the isolation barrier to collapse onto the ground.
Closing his eyes, the minister began regulating his breath, calming his body into a state of tranquility.
Just mere moments later, however, Wei Xuan found it difficult to even maintain the isolating barrier, nearly causing a sledge of snow to cascade onto his unprotected head.
“AH!” A piercing shriek suddenly rang out from within the study.
“No more…NO MORE! Xiao Ying, I’m dying, I’m dying, I’M DYING!!!!“
“Fourth Young Miss, you must endure, ah!” the maidservant’s cry accompanied the scream.
“Just withstand for a few more breaths, and it’ll be over!”