Observing Zixu on the other side of the bookshelf, Yujia seemed to see his expression falter for just a moment. Except, the next moment, his face looked the same, so perhaps it was a trick of the light.
Yujia quickly leaned over to the end of the bookshelf, facing Zixu and saying, "Senior Brother!"
He kept his calm smile, asking, "What are you doing here? We keep running into each other."
"It's all my master—" Yujia gave an exasperated sigh, pressing her lips into a flat line. "I was trying to ask him for tips on calligraphy, and he sent me to the library. What about you? Did he summon you again?"
Zixu shook his head slowly. "In the morning, when I'm usually free, I like to visit Lingxin's library to read some of the books and scrolls here. Your master may have observed this habit in my schedule. I was visiting the library yesterday too, when he called me over to the pavilion."
Her hands clasped in front of her, Yujia inclined herself to look at the scrolls on the shelf. Meanwhile, Zixu, turning slightly away from the shelf, glanced down.
He pointed out, "You're wearing the pendant."
Yujia, who was about to grab a scroll, paused, moving her hand down to raise the pendant. She smiled. "Yes. It matched my outfit today, and I didn't have a better option."
"It does match. The colors of your dress really suit you," he commented quietly.
"Thank you," Yujia replied, a light blush across her face. Then, she suddenly thought of a conversation she had with Ye Yunhe in the past. "By the way," she continued, "I heard that you were good at calligraphy?"
Zixu tilted his head. "I suppose I know a thing or two."
"So humble, as always."
He smiled a little more. "Would you like me to teach you, Junior Sister?"
Yujia straightened herself, eyes lighting up. "Could you?"
He stepped aside and gestured for her to walk forward, then followed after as Yujia went towards the direction of the table area. She took a seat at a table with ink, paper, and brushes on it. Zixu sat opposite of her.
Without wasting any time, he picked up one of the brushes, demonstrating the proper method of holding it to her.
"Hold the brush straight, like so," he explained, his voice quiet but firm, "with these two fingers at the front, and the rest behind." He turned his wrist, allowing Yujia to see the proper way herself, which involved supporting the brush with her index and middle finger. "Place your thumb like such," he went on, moving his thumb down to grip the brush.
Yujia picked up a brush of her own, fumbling with it a little. It felt slightly unnatural, to think that she would be writing words in this way, so she made some motions with her wrist, in an attempt to relax her hand and get used to the motions.
Zixu observed her attempts, then noted, "When writing, you should not move your wrist like that. The motion is fluid, through your entire body. Also, the distance between your thumb and fingers is too small. Try to loosen up a little."
Staring at the brush, Yujia uncurled her fingers, watching the brush fall onto the table with a small thud. A small laugh came from Zixu, and she looked up, smiling as well.
Seeing her incompetence, he stood up, moving to her side of the table. He showed her how to hold the brush from her point of view, in hopes that it would make it easier for her to understand. However, as Yujia tried again, he had more things to point out, about the distance and positioning of her grasp.
At last, he extended out his hand, placing the brush he held onto the table. "May I?" he asked.
Yujia nodded, not exactly sure what he was talking about, until he reached for her hand that held the brush. His hand clasped over hers, he adjusted the position of her fingers until he felt like it was good enough.
While he moved her hand, she tilted her head, observing him from her peripheral vision. His gaze was concentrated, a slight crease in his defined brows, and up close, she could truly tell how focused he was on correcting her brush-holding posture. It was admirable, how closely he paid attention to details like these.
"Now," he suddenly said, moving his hand away and bringing his gaze to her eyes, "that's better."
She dropped her gaze, slightly flustered that he caught her staring, even if it was only for a brief second.
While she pretended to focus on observing her hand and the brush, he pulled a sheet of paper over, along with preparing some ink with the water and inkstone by the side. Then, he dipped his brush into the water, smoothing the shape of the brush on the side to remove the excess moisture, and dipped the entire section of the brush hairs into the ink, removing the excessive ink on the side of the container like he did with the water.
On the sheet of paper, he began to demonstrate to her the ways of proper calligraphy, explaining all the while he did so. He explained how by applying different kinds of pressure, the strokes of the brush could become bolder or finer, how the movements should be fluid and not shaky, and how she should move her entire arm as she wrote. He also explained how there was spirit within the calligraphy, just like how there was spirit within painting, and that since she had some experience in art, calligraphy should come a little more naturally to her than someone who had zero experience.
Following that, he allowed her to test it out. When she had made enough brush strokes, under his careful observation, he picked up his brush again, on a new piece of paper.
"What are you going to write?" Yujia asked, looking over with interest.
He smiled slightly, replying, "You'll see."
So, she watched as he wrote three, perfectly-written characters down on the page.
The way by which he wrote was as careful as the way that he liked to observe people and details. Each motion of his arm was smooth, bringing the ink along with it as if each stroke was gliding on wind. Yet, at the same time, there was an immaculate level of precision along with it, one that clearly acted as evidence to the sheer hours upon hours he must've spent perfecting every small stroke. The lines were all planned to fit each other perfectly, connecting together to form beautiful, perfect words.
Or, at least, they looked perfect in Yujia's eyes. When she commented with awe on his work, Zixu simply replied, "I am often told that my writing is too careful, to the point where all the concern and thought makes it lose spirit— so I can never accomplish true calligraphy of the heart."
Yujia quickly shook her head, retorting, "I still think it's amazing, though. It's clear how much effort you've put into it, and that's really admirable."
"Thank you." Zixu's smile grew a little warmer, though the look in his eyes held a tinge of melancholy, if Yujia had to describe what she saw. He added on, "Now, you should try. Copy it as well as you can."
Gulping, Yujia picked up her brush and attempted to channel her inner non-existent perfectionist, remembering the way Zixu wrote the characters and mimicking what she remembered.
It turned out decent in her eyes, but when a slight chuckle escaped from Zixu, she knew that she was way too far from his level of skill. When she looked at the two versions, hers and his, side by side, she could see ways that her calligraphy lacked as well.
Zixu hovered the end of a brush over each character, pointing out the flaws she made. Under his meticulous guidance, she wrote her name again. This time, he noted that it was much better, but he still had corrections to make. When she had perfected her name after a few more tries, he took another piece of paper and picked up his brush again.
"We talked about Tao Yuanming's poetry before, didn't we?" he said.
Yujia nodded, remembering the discussion they had a while back in the library. It was before Zixu went to take the imperial examinations. He had been studying Tao Yuanming's work.
"There is another poem that he has written, which I admire," Zixu went on, "The depth of the image he paints with his words is stunning."
His brush began to write on the page while he read aloud the lines.
"The mountain air is fine in the evening of the day,
And flying birds return homewards together.
Within these things there is a hint of truth,
But when I start to tell it, I cannot find the words."
He set his brush down at the end of the four lines, saying, "I wonder, sometimes, if the leisurely life and a heart of serenity that he describes is what I truly want, but I do not know." Sliding the page across the table, he instructed, "You should practice copying these."
Yujia picked up her brush, about to write like he instructed, but she heard a rustling noise. When she looked up, she saw that Zixu had stood, crossing to the other side of the table. He held his hands in front of him and bowed.
"I have to get going now, Junior Sister. I hope that you will excuse me."
She blinked and stood up, bowing as well. "That is fine, Senior Brother. I will work hard on practicing, so I'm afraid I won't send you off. Farewell."
Exchanging nods, Zixu then went on his way, exiting the private library. As she sat down, she heard sounds of a door being rattled from outside the library, as if some door was locked, but she didn't pay it much heed.
A few moments later, Zixu reentered the library and appeared in front of her again. She widened her eyes in surprise. He informed her of something that definitely caught her off-guard.
"The doors of the main building are locked."
loved writing this chapter hehe
hope yall enjoyed, pls comment/vote if you did!
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