19 That“s Enough
After buying more food than their hands and servants could carry, Li Wenmin finally took a break from his shopping spree. He had enough supplies of snacks to last a normal person for a week, but knowing him, he'd finish it by tomorrow morning. The trio found a nice little spot to sit down and enjoy their food. Well, it was mainly Xueyue and Li Chenyang enjoying their food while Li Wenmin gobbled it down faster than he could breathe.
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Xueyue swung her little legs and observed the townspeople while she ate. Her eyes wandered towards the standing servants and guards before turning back to the city center. Everyone, except the servants and the heavily armed guards, sat around the benches in the public pavilion of the capital. Her unoccupied hands lazily played with the edges of the handkerchiefs she sat upon. The servants were worried they'd dirty their clothes if they sat on the bench as it was.
Xueyue, Li Wenmin, and Li Chenyang had unknowingly garnered a lot of attention everywhere they went. Of course, the capital was always brimming with wealthy officials, but usually, it wasn't in such a large crowd. There were at least three servants and five guards per child -- and those were only the visible ones.
Li Wenmin had unknowingly gained a great reputation amongst the food vendors who eagerly waited for his patronage. Many of them wished for his visit because of how easily he handed out meaningful gold coins. And he was not the only Li to have earned the people's respect. Many were watching Xueyue who always remembered to thank the vendors before leaving. It was also hard to miss such a looker. A beauty inside and out, such a thing was very, very rare.
"Does the steamed bun taste good?" Li Wenmin asked Chenyang after he finished his own share.
"It's not bad," Li Chenyang grumbled as he took another bite.
Xueyue noticed Li Wenmin's eager stare and laughed. "You can have mine if you want." She reached her hand towards a servant who immediately gave her the steamed bun.
Li Wenmin's entire face lit up faster than a kid accepting a red envelope during lunar new year. "Really?!" he exclaimed, happily clapping his hands.
Xueyue pressed her lips together to resist another laugh. Instead, she smiled and handed Li Wenmin the piping hot bun. "I've already had enough food to last me the entire day," she mused.
Li Wenmin gasped in delight and bear-hugged her. "You're the best, Yueyue!" he exclaimed before digging into the food.
Xueyue watched Li Wenmin eat with an unbeknownst smile. She wondered just how large his stomach had to be. Seriously, this boy never seemed to get full!
Her eyes then trailed to Li Chenyang who seemed to be distracted by observing their surroundings. She followed his line of sight and took in the beautiful capital of Wuyi.
It truly was one of the most beautiful cities in the entire country. It was so lively in a cheerful and amusing manner. There was always a pleasant scent of freshly made food while children ran in between the busy legs of pedestrians. There was a lovely pond in the center of the city with small bridges connecting to pavillions. On the outskirts of the capital, there was a scenic forest that concealed small waterfalls.
The city was always bustling with people ranging from foreign merchants to local sellers, servants on errands, ladies of middle-class families mingling with their friends, mothers buying groceries, and children happily running around.
To Xueyue who had never seen anything beyond the Bai Manor walls, this was a beautiful sight to witness. She unknowingly wore a small smile on her face while she watched the people walk by and perform their daily tasks.
Although they were accompanied by many heavily armed and trained guards, Li Chenyang still scanned the crowd for any threats. As his eyes trailed along the crowds, it eventually fell onto Xueyue. The more he stared at her, the more he felt conflicted.
He had thought she was like most ladies of the wealthy society, spoiled and ungrateful. But today, as he watched her thank the merchants, he realized she was the opposite of that. Xueyue eluded an air of grace and humbleness that he was grateful for.
Li Chenyang frowned when he saw how quiet she was. She didn't speak unless she was spoken to, and her eyes would rarely make eye contact as she spoke. Her eyes were always cast downwards as if she was too scared to look at someone.
Li Chenyang wondered about her past. The duke and duchess didn't share any of her confidential information. He was originally reluctant to accept her into the household, but the more he interacted with her, the more he wanted to know about her.
Xueyue didn't realize the heavy stares upon her that were coming from all sorts of directions, nor did she pick up on a particular pair of eyes questioning her from a carriage window. She was too distracted by a small child in rags running through a busy crowd.
"Someone grab that brat!" a man yelled, pointing his meaty fingers at the child who was running with a loaf of bread in his sickly thin hands. He rushed to grab the child. It was not a difficult task for the child's legs were too short to get very far.
Xueyue's eyes widened when she saw someone trip the child who painfully tumbled onto the cement floor. The bread fell with him and another person accidentally stepped onto it. The starved child continued to reach for the dirty and squished bread that was obviously not edible anymore.
Without realizing it, Xueyue had gotten onto her feet and ran past her guards and servants.
Li Chenyang scowled, "Hey! Where are you going?!"
Child thieves aren't uncommon in the wealthy capital, especially with the war that separates men from their families. Many children were left orphaned by the current war that the emperor promised was coming to an end. The public thought that was the truth, but only a selected group of people knew the war was just beginning.
Xueyue had experienced what it felt like to get beaten. She understood the brutal pain and the sensation of seeing your life flash before your eyes. She didn't want such a young child to undergo the same experiences.
The little boy cried out in pain when the man yanked him up by the hair. When the first smack echoed throughout the crowds, no one stepped forward. Not even a flinch came from the crowd. No one bothered to help the child, except another child.
Xueyue was running faster than her legs could carry her and by the time she got there, the baker was ready to slap the boy again. Her breathless voice sliced through the tension, "That's enough!"