39 Second Princess
The Emperor observed the Commander in front of him with a stoic expression. It was almost as if he was searching for something. Then spontaneously, his serious expression broke into a smile as warm as the summer sun.
"You may approach, Commander." He enjoyed calling him the title more than Wen Jinkai ever would. A Commander. A hero. He was someone treasured and praised by the entire nation. The Emperor was as proud as any fatherly figure would.
Wen Jinkai wordlessly walked past the guards that lined the staircase. He strolled up the stairs with a confidence that no one could ever match.
"You seem well," the Emperor commented when Wen Jinkai was an arm's reach from him.
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Wen Jinkai didn't respond to the compliment, but the slight curl on the left side of his lips was enough to show that he had heard what the Emperor said.
The Commander rarely smiled, nor would anyone catch a gentle expression on his face. Growing up on the battlefield and slaying many men left and right without flinching, his soul was bleak and black.
Even though the Imperial Family doted on him, he rarely showed an expression of content on his face. It was the effect of being neglected during his childhood before the Empress graciously extended a helping hand towards him.
"How was the battle near Yijing?" the Emperor asked. He actually didn't care for the battle, he only wanted to hear the quiet Wen Jinkai speak more.
"We won," Wen Jinkai curtly said. His voice was rough and deep, and one could hear the authority and dominance he exuded from uttering just two simple words.
A slow smile spread on the Emperor's face. "That is always pleasant to hear." He motioned for his advisor to step forward and the greying man immediately did so. A few whispers were passed before the advisor disappeared into the shadows with speed that didn't match his age.
Truthfully, the Emperor had already heard of the magnificent outcomes of the battle.
The enemy soldiers were left brutally slaughtered. No one stood a chance when the Commander strutted into battle with his fearsome horse. It didn't take just brute strength to win the battle. Well-thought-out strategies were set in place, as well as unpredictable battle formations.
"My dear boy, you've yet to come and greet me," the Empress gently said.
Even though her tone seemed to nitpick at him, the fond smile on her face said otherwise. Her mood had been incredibly low, but soared to the sky in his presence.
Because Wen Jinkai grew up without his biological mother, the Empress had graciously taken on the role of raising him as her own son, and eventually, he found a good place in her heart.
He had stuck by the Empress's side more than the Emperor's, which made the former love and dote on him more than anyone ever could.
Duke Wen Xuan showered all of his children with love, all except his eldest son. No one questioned his style of parenting, especially when they learned that Wen Jinkai's birth resulted in the death of his beloved first wife. Rumor has it that he still hadn't moved on from the death despite the two decades that had passed.
The Empress took in Wen Jinkai and treated him like her own son. She was close friends with Wen Jinkai's mother, the late Duchess Ye. She would never forget the image of a lonely boy standing beside a tree as he watched his family happily interacting with one another while he stood on the outside like an outcast.
Wen Jinkai turned towards the Empress. His frigid expression slightly softened.
"I was saving the best for last." He strolled towards the Empress, cupped his fists and bowed to her lower than he did to the Emperor.
Had it been anyone else, the Emperor would've felt insulted and angered, but he wasn't. Instead, he was slightly grateful towards Commander Wen Jinkai.
All of the Imperial Consorts and Concubines were present today, and the Empress despised the sight of them. She always kept her emotions in check and had ruled over the harem with an iron fist, but it never absolved the deep hatred she felt in her soul. Her mood had soured this morning when she heard a rumor that the Emperor was going to enter into yet another marriage alliance.
But after hearing Wen Jinkai's words, the Empress's mood was significantly lifted and a genuine smile graced her lips.
"You've lost your baby face," the Empress gently said, placing a tender hand on his face.
"I never had a baby face," he curtly said which prompted light laughter from the Emperor and Empress.
"Of course not, dear child," the Empress said with a small smile that reached her eyes. They were filled with love and adoration for the Commander, so much so, that it was beginning to make her own sons very jealous.
Their mother greatly doted on them, but anyone would feel jealous when their mother showered the same love on another who wasn't even her biological son.
"Uhm..." a light voice spoke up from the Empress's right side.
The Empress turned towards the small voice that sounded like the beautiful jingles of bells.
It was her second daughter, the famed Second Princess of Wuyi. She was the Empress Dowager's favorite granddaughter, and one could tell why.
With beauty as delicate as the Peach Blossom trees, expressive and adoring eyes, she was the definition of perfection.
"W-welcome home, Jinkai," the Princess softly uttered, her face red with shyness. She gently gathered her hanfu and did a light bow for him. She glanced up with a hopeful expression, her smile widening just for him.