Xueyue stared at the boxes on the table in assorted colors, sizes, and decorations.
The largest and most extravagant box stood right in front of her– untouched and ready to be claimed by her.
Everyone held their breath when she reached for another box. Suddenly, her hand changed direction and picked up a modest box. It was simple and the royal purple reminded her of the Li family tent.
The people snickered at her. How dumb was she to choose the ugliest and smallest box? Was she purposefully showing how humble she was? How foolish! When it came to these extravagant gifts, why not be greedy for once and choose the largest box?
When Xueyue opened the box, she was surprised to see a slip of paper inside. Taking it out, a few whispered amongst themselves. She must've chosen a dud. She had lost her chance of receiving a priceless hairpin, glamorous pair of earrings, or eye-dropping necklace.
Xueyue unraveled the folded paper. She was surprised to see a writing: A wish.
"Ah, it seems you've chosen the most expensive gift here." The Emperor's eyes danced with amusement. Not only did this girl have a keen eye, but also a lucky hand. There were multiple humbly decorated boxes on the table and the one in her hand wasn't the ugliest box present. She had chosen the safe route and chosen a middle-ground.
The crowd whispered in confusion. How can a slip of paper be expensive?
Xueyue stared at him, her eyes filled with conflict. The Emperor misunderstood her stare to be one filled with confusion.
"This gift will grant you a single wish from the Royal Family. You can request for a royal title, kingdom, land, unwavering wealth, a marriage certificate with one of the Princes, or anything else that comes into mind. As long as it does not endanger or put the Empire or Royal Family at stake, the wish can be granted," The Emperor explained, the edge of his mouth slightly tilting up.
Sharp gasps could be heard before a buzz of whispers whirled through the air. Just how lucky was this young woman?!
Immediately, many noble families saw her as a desirable candidate for marriage. To be able to have a wish granted by the Royal Family, just imagine the fortune that they can request from them!
Not liking the eyes that were trained onto every single one of her movements, Xueyue knew it was time to retreat to the Li Family's tent.
Cupping her fists, she bowed low to the Emperor. "Li Xueyue thanks His Majesty for this priceless gift, it will be dearly treasured." Her voice was firm and unwavering, nothing like the meek girl that her appearance seemed to scream.
- - - - -
Li Xueyue swiftly rushed to her tent after accepting the gift. She could feel hundreds of eyes on her, judging every step and breath she took.
The minute she walked into the tent, she blew out a sigh of relief. Lifting her gaze, she noticed the conflicted expression on Duke Li Shenyang's face and the bright glimmer on Duchess Li Qixing's face.
"You shouldn't have picked that gift."
"I'm so happy you picked that gift!" The Duke and Duchess spoke at the same time.
"Uh..." Xueyue stared at the different expressions on their faces.
The Duchess seemed overly excited whereas the Duke seemed wary.
Duke Li Shenyang said, "That gift has placed you in the center of attention. The people will purposely target you."
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"Target you for marriage!" Duchess Li Qixing exclaimed, completely ignoring the unhappy expression on the Duke's face.
While Duchess Li Qixing was excited for the marriage proposals, Duke Li Shenyang wasn't.
If she has a long line of potential suitors, it would make his life too hard and complicated. He didn't want anyone investigating Xueyue's background and questioning her relations to the Li Family.
He was conflicted about his viewpoint of her.
Was he supposed to view her as a distant niece? Or was he supposed to think of her as an adopted daughter?
The twins cherished her too much for her to be a distant niece, and the Duchess was constantly happy around Xueyue. She had a good influence on her family. But what would happen if her true heritage was discovered?
His eyes trailed to the Bai Family. Their expressions were completely nonchalant as if they hadn't just heard the name of their dead child.
How could Viscountess Bai Yihua nonchalantly sit there and fan herself? Did she not care for her own flesh and blood? What about Viscount Bai Sheng? Did he not care about the child he raised as his own?
Duke Li Shenyang nearly scoffed at himself. Of course, Viscount Bai Sheng didn't care, he was the one who ordered her to be beaten to death!
Duke Li Shenyang pressed his lips together. Two years ago, after Duke Wen Xuan visited his study because of the injured Commander, Duke Li had Ling investigate Li Chenyang and Li Minghua's relationship.
He was not surprised to hear they were always at each other's throats so he brushed it off as typical sibling rivalries. There was nothing suspicious about them. Even so, he still felt as if something was off. He couldn't pinpoint it. Was there something beyond the typical quarrel?
"Xueyue, what do you think about marriage?" Duchess Li Qixing smiled at her, clasping their hands together. She always loved the warmth that came from Xueyue's hand. Because it was always in a loose fist, Xueyue's hands were always warm.
"Marriage? I haven't thought about it," Xueyue hesitantly answered while warily eyeing the Duchess. 'I'm too young for marriage,' she thought to herself.
Besides, she didn't think any man would like her. Who would like someone with no proper title, background, and backings?
Xueyue glanced at their hands. She remembered what Viscount Bai Sheng once told her. She was an unwanted child and of no value. Eventually, she took his words to heart.
"And you shouldn't think about it," Li Wenmin interjected when he walked into the tent. His voice was on edge and his lips were pulled down into an unhappy scowl. 'Marriage? I think not!'
"Speaking of marriage, we have to discuss your suitable partners as well!" Duchess Li Qixing ignored her son's gloomy expression as she began to look for a slip of paper.
"But Mother!" Li Wenmin whined, childishly stomping his foot. "I don't want to get married so young—"
"Nonsense! Right now is the best time for marriage. There are a lot of young and talented noble daughters here. Many of them have been eyeing you and your brother. For example, Baron Han's daughter and..." Duchess Li Qixing rambled on and on making a list of all the daughters she had gotten acquainted with.
While she rambled to Li Wenmin, Duke Li Shenyang was lost in his thoughts.
Li Wenmin was trying his best to coax and calm his mother, while Xueyue quietly observed the scene before her. Seeing that no one was paying attention, she smiled at the perfect opportunity presented to her. As the mother and son bickered amongst themselves and the Duke spaced out, Xueyue snuck out of the tent.
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