"You! You dare to quibble around?!" Hua Xiuning started to get anxious. Just when she was about to say more, Claire smiled sweetly and said gently, "When I met Claire Hill for the first time, we hit it off so well, we became sworn sister. Naturally, her elder cousin is my elder cousin. Is there a problem?"
Hua Xiuning became completely baffled. She stared rigidly at Claire.
Claire smiled like a flower blossom and continued gently, "The manners of the number one beauty of Lagark, Miss Hua, are so... sad as you rub salt onto other family's wounds, being the face of the Hua clan. Do you truly find joy in the pain of others?"
In that instant, numerous murderous gazes whipped towards Hua Xiuning, sharp as knives. Hua Xiuning was so angry, her face was beet red. Biting her lip, she glared at Claire. If those words were said by an ordinary woman, she would have been dismissed and said as too aggressive, considering Hua Xiuning's status. But said by such a stunning beauty, the one to be indignant towards would be her. Everybody's low whispers reached Hua Xiuning's ears, quietly commenting on her lack of manners and such.
Hua Xiuning trembled with anger. She wanted to vent her anger, but with the crown prince and so many present, she could only hold it in. She understood what kinds of creatures men where. When a woman was so beautiful, they seemed out of reach, men would strive their hardest to reach her using all means. No matter what the beauty said, it was right. And no matter what the beauty wanted, they would do their best to achieve it. Even if what the beauty said was immoral, they would still do it. Many men were just this lowly*! Hua Xiuning understood this and had often used it to her advantage, but today, Lan Ling, a woman more beautiful than her, was present. It was quite easy to see how those shameless men would switch sides and stand up for Lan Ling instead. Hua Xiuning never thought that the very trick she used so often would be used against her!
*Disclaimer: I do not believe this, this is just part of the story.
"Miss Hua, I had already known everything you just said. Did you think the royal family would not know that? Did you think the royal family is that easy to deceive?" The crown prince's voice was icy, without any trace of warmth. Clearly, he was a bit angered. The farce had irritated him.
Hua Xiuning's mouth opened wide, but she couldn't say a word. She only stared at the crown prince helplessly. In that instant, boundless remorse arose in her heart. She had been too impulsive! If the Hua clan would be able to discover these facts, then how could the royal family be unable to? The prince had known all along, he just never showed it!
"I hope such a farce will never occur again." A trace of disgust flashed in his eyes. Naturally, the crown prince understood why Hua Xiuning had come today. The jealousy of a woman was so ugly.
An undetectable glint of surprise flashed through Claire's eyes. It turns out, the crown prince had known for quite awhile. In such a situation, he had been so calm and collected, worthy of being the heir of Lagark's throne. But Lan Ling would still be a mystery to him, because she didn't exist in the first place. Claire suddenly felt amused.
The crown prince motioned for Claire to enter first, so Claire simply turned and left. Meanwhile, Hua Xiuning was shaking with anger under disdainful gazes. Even when everybody had dispersed, Hua Xiuning was still trembling.
Detestable woman? What were her origins? Who was she? She had to find out! And make her disappear forever!
Meanwhile, Claire had the crown prince had already entered a spacious and refined theater box. It was the best box of the theater.
After the two sat down, the crown prince looked towards Claire. In a low voice, he said, "Who are you really?"
"Who do you think I am?" Claire smiled at the crown prince, answering his question with a question.
"I don't know. Your appearance is so beautiful, it seems unreal. If it were simple your beautiful appearance, I wouldn't have have taken much notice. But from being able to have lotuses appear with each step and give away the Andleen Crown so heedlessly and your seemingly careless refuting of Hua Xiuning, I know that you are no ordinary woman. The Li clan is once again in the spotlight because of you." Claire had not expected the crown prince's words.
Claire laughed inwardly. Appearance so beautiful it seems unreal, hah! Congratulations, you are correct. But of course, she could not say such words aloud.
"What does your highness thing my aims are?" Claire kept smiling like a smile.
The crown prince's eyes glinted as he asked in a low voice, "Is it as simple as drawing gazes to the Li clan?"
"If I said yes, what would your highness think?" Claire smiled.
"Then I would believe you." The crown prince nodded seriously, but in his heart, he was puzzled. Such a mysterious woman. No matter how he investigated, he could not find her identity or background. Everything about her was a mystery.
"Good." Claire smiled. "Having witnessed the forging skill of the Li clan, I believe your highness should already have made a decision. Or should I say his majesty, the emperor, has made his decision." Claire's expression turned complex. The Li clan's forging was already near the peak of metalsmithing and it was with some of her guidance with the knowledge from her previous life that they were able to forge such sharp weapons. Was this the right move?
The crown prince fell silent. He turned and looked down at the stage below, calm. "The right to equip the army has been held by the Feng clan for a long time. To change it isn't so easy. And Father's trust in and reliance on the Feng clan's duchess is unimaginable."
"So?" Claire was now also looking down at the stage too. She understood that the crown prince still had more to say.
"So the Feng clan gave one condition. At the martial arts tournament in two months, the Li clan must win," the crown prince said in a low voice. The crown prince himself was confused. An Lisha always supported anything that benefitted Lagark, but this time, she had given such a condition. What were her intentions?
Claire now understood that the reason why the crown prince had invited her today was to pass on the message. The condition seemed both reasonable and unreasonable.
"Then please tell the Feng clan that the Li clan will definitely win at the tournament." Claire's voice was soft, but firm.
"I'm looking forward to it." The crown prince smiled at Claire.
Claire smiled without a word.
The martial arts tournament would truly become a sight to behold and it was all because of a golden haired, green eyed girl!
Time flew by, two months passing in the blink of an eye. During those two months, the clothing store and smithy of the Li clan had caused a huge ripple in the capital. Enormous profits rolled in. The noble women flaunted the newest dresses bought from the Li clan's clothing store while noble men compared swords forged at the Li clan's smithy.
Fall arrived with leaves dancing and chilly wind blowing.
Claire leaned against a pillar silently, watching the children of the Li clan train at the training grounds some distance away. A faint smile appeared on her lips.
Tomorrow was the day of the national martial arts tournament. Anyone was allowed to compete as long they were under the age of twenty. No matter what background or gender, all could sign up. Those who displayed their talent could be recruited by the empire, so many were willing to give it a try.
"Claire..." Li Yuewen's called out from behind Claire.
"Cousin Yuewen, I will definitely win on behalf of the Li clan. Then I will go home." Claire didn't turn around, her voice soft as she spoke. She did not shift her gaze from the children.
"Yes..." Li Yuewen's voice was quiet, carrying a hint of sadness.
"Don't worry, I will definitely win." Claire turned around, smiling at Li Yuewen.
"Claire, you must always remember that this is also your home. Our doors are always open for you. You can return whenever you want." Li Yuewen gazed at Claire. Unexpectedly, her eyes were flickering.
"Cousin Yuewen, are you crying?" Claire chuckled softly.
"You damn brat!" Li Yuewen grabbed Claire's arm. Claire laughed. Just when she was about to struggle, Li Yuewen suddenly pulled her into her embrace.
Claire was stunned. She stood there silently, not moving.
Li Yuewen hugged Claire tighter, mumbling, "Be careful. You must definitely be careful tomorrow. You must be safe and sound, do you understand?"
Claire lowered her gaze, a hint of a smile on her face, her heart warm.
"Yes, Cousin Yuewen, don't worry. I will definitely be fine," Claire pledged solemnly.
The next morning, there was a clear sound of a bugle, the long note heard across the entire capital.
The tournament would take place at the large square in front of the palace. The constructed stadium had a large expanse for a stage, thick and sturdy. Stands had been constructed long ago for viewing. The highest stand was for the royal family then the officials and nobility. The ordinary stands farthest away were naturally for the commoners. Currently, the square was already quite full. The contestants were to draw lots to determine the preliminary line up.
With too many contestants each year, the competition always started with a mass elimination. Competitors of the same type of lots would go up and fight against many with the last standing as the winner who would proceed to the next round. A barrier would be erected around the stage so the audience would not be accidentally injured.
Claire and all the other contestants sat quietly at their designated spots, waiting. Meanwhile, Li Yuewen and Li Mingyu were sitting at the stands of the arena, watching.
Claire suddenly felt an intense gaze. She turned to see Feng Yixuan watching with a fiery gaze, eyes fill of unconcealable delight. He had wanted to get up and go over many times, but was stopped by Shui Wenmo, who was next to him. Shui Wenmo would always mumble something that would cause Feng Yixuan to sit back down angrily. Reading Shui Wenmo's lips, Claire understood. Shui Wenmo had said, 'don't forget what you promised your Ma'.