In less than a minute later, a guard stepped into the tent and deeply bowed.
"I deeply apologize for this intrusion, my lord, my lady, but there is a gentleman out there demanding—no, I mean, requesting for an audience." He visibly gulped and his hands were shaking. Whoever was out there must've been a force to be reckoned with.
Every guard serving under the Li Family was expertly trained by the Imperial Military whose crude and merciless method was not one to be underestimated. The Imperial Family expected perfection from their army and thus, every single soldier worked to the bone to achieve the impossible. They were not perfect, but they were very close to it.
For an Imperial guard to shake in his boots was a serious matter.
Duke Li Shenyang, however, was amused by the events unfolding before him. Xueyue had only participated in one tournament, but it was already enough to cause quite a stir. He was beyond entertained by this.
"Let the… gentleman in." Duke Li Shenyang smiled into his teacup. He was subtly jabbing at Wen Jinkai with the hesitation in word choice.
The guard nervously glanced at the twins before hesitantly speaking up, "My lord, it is out of my place to say this, but the gentleman—"
"Do your duties properly," a frigid voice entered the tent, its very sound was enough to freeze the guard's heart.
The poor guard loudly gulped as he raised his head, revealing his paling face. "Commander, I…" He couldn't finish his sentence before feeling light-headed.
Wen Jinkai had not spared the man a glance. His attention steered towards Xueyue quicker than he could look away. He was amused by her disapproving stare that seemed to question his presence in their tent. He honored her by staring directly into those inquisitive eyes. He half-expected her to look away or shy back, but she did the opposite. She stuck her tongue out at him before dodging behind one of the twins.
Instead of being offended by her, he found it entertaining.
"Good afternoon, Commander Wen." Duke Li Shenyang settled his teacup onto the side table next to him. "How may I help you?"
Wen Jinkai tore his eyes from the spot that Xueyue stood. He cleared his throat, but found his attention diverting towards the corner of his eyes. Xueyue had stopped using one of the twins as her shield and was inching towards one of the chairs. She eloquently sat down and pretended that he wasn't here.
Duchess Li Qixing noticed Xueyue's behavior and found it odd. Wasn't the child conversing with him a few minutes ago? She watched as Xueyue disinterestedly played with a pendant hanging from her waist. Not a second later, the Commander's eyes snapped towards the pendant, his eyes narrowing with displeasure. Was he bothered by her action?
Wen Jinkai forced himself to look away from Xueyue and shifted his attention back to Duke Li Shenyang. He said, "I just wanted to congratulate Li Xueyue on her victory."
"Didn't you have enough time to congratulate her when you saved her from that fall?" Duke Li Shenyang asked in amusement.
He didn't miss Wen Jinkai's obvious interest in Xueyue. However, he was not sure if he enjoyed having the Commander around her. He was not one of Duke Wen's favorable heirs. But, the Commander was wealthy and reputable in his own way. His achievements were endless and so were his connections.
It finally clicked to Duchess Li Qixing. Xueyue was playing hard to get. She glanced at the young woman before thinking to herself, 'Xueyue IS hard to get.'
"No, I didn't," Wen Jinkai coldly responded, glowering at Li Chenyang.
Li Chenyang stiffened under Wen Jinkai's piercing stare. He understood how soldiers could fear this man. His glare was no joke. It was enough for soldiers to abandon their honor and drop their swords on the battlefield.
"Go congratulate her and be on your merry way," Duke Li Sheyang mused whilst cackling inside of his head. It was so fun to poke the bear, especially when a certain lady was able to put a collar on this bear.
Xueyue hummed to herself whilst she continued to twirl the pendant.
Wen Jinkai's gaze sharpened. 'Why wasn't she wearing the pendant that I gave her? Did she not like it?' He could have it made in a different design if she wanted it to. Perhaps black didn't suit her.
"Congratulations," he curtly said in the most monotonous voice possible. She was obviously not expecting that as her head snapped up to him. He realized how round her eyes were, like a baby deer exploring a new environment.
"Thank you, Commander," she replied in an equally flat voice, but offered him a slight smile.
He silently studied her and unknowingly took a step closer. He didn't care about the shuffling of feet behind him or the brooding twins. She tilted her head the slightest bit, wondering what his next actions would be. He wondered if she was naturally this adorable or faking it.
One look at her lively hazel eyes was enough for him to know she wasn't doing it on purpose. She was just naturally that charming.
"Commander?" she quietly said, immediately bringing him out of his daydream. He cleared his throat, glancing at the Duke and Duchess who glanced at their surroundings as if they hadn't seen a single thing.
He liked that she wasn't awkwardly avoiding his gaze. He was told it was often too intimidating and fierce. He was trying his best to mellow it for her, but he wasn't sure if it was working or not.
Xueyue wondered why he was intently staring at her, his incredulously dark eyes so bleak, she saw nothing but her reflection. His jaw ticked. He was upset by something. What was it?
"That's a lovely pendant you're twirling."
"Oh, the Duchess brought it for me…" she trailed off, finally understanding what he was implying. Before she could reply, he shifted his attention elsewhere.
"Now that I've said what needed to be said, have a good day," he spoke and turned to the Duke and Duchess. "Duke Li Shenyang, Duchess Li Qixing." He nodded in greeting and approached the entrance of the tent before casting a knowing smirk towards the twins. "Li Chenyang. Li Wenmin."
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"Wait—!" Xueyue exclaimed, abruptly getting out of her seat. She didn't know why she panicked at his abrupt exit.
The Commander pretended as if he didn't hear her and continued strolling out of the tent.
Li Wenmin scowled, crossing his arms. He came to Xueyue's aid and loudly said, "That bastard dared to ignore—"
She whirled right past him, a blur of white and purple. He just blinked and she was already gone.
He glanced around, "Did she just run off after him?"
"So much for playing hard to get." Duchess Li Qixing sighed, sitting down on her chair. "I should teach her how to play her cards better."
"Mom, you can't!" Li Wenmin gasped, "Are you trying to sell her off to the highest bidder?!"
"My darling Xueyue is not livestock. As if I would do something so horrendous like that to her." Duchess Li Qixing fumed, placing an offended hand on her chest. "She's too precious for me to even fathom selling her off to a loveless marriage."
"Oh." Li Wenmin calmed down, straightening his shirt. "That's good to hear—"
"But I will allow her to marry at any age she wants."
"Maybe when she's grandma's age," Li Chenyang spoke up, referring to the Empress Dowager.
"Well, if she falls in love at that age, then sure." Duchess Li Qixing fondly smiled at the spot that Xueyue vacated from. "Anything that makes her happy will make me happy."
"I guess we're finally on the same page," Duke Li Shenyang murmured, letting out a sigh of relief that he didn't know he was holding in.
"But then again..." Duchess Li Qixing flashed her husband and sons a victorious smile. "She's very close to falling in love at this young age." She nodded at the spot that Xueyue ran out from.
"She can't marry him." Li Chenyang frowned.
"I'd kill him." Li Wenmin scowled.
"He's unsuitable for her." Duke Li Shenyang sighed.
"What? Why?" Duchess Li Qixing scowled, placing her teacup onto the table beside her.
Commander Wen Jinkai was a very reputable man known for his wits, strength, and influence. There was rarely an unfavorable gossip about him and he was never seen with a woman. In fact, he didn't even have a fiancée when most men with his level of wealth and title would've already had a harem—similar to the one that Duke Wen Xuan had.
It was a wonder why the Li twins didn't have a fiancée as well, or multiple wives already. But those who truly understood the dynamics of the Li Family would understand why. They would only take one wife and look at no one else. It was what their father, Duke Li Shenyang, taught them since birth.
One wife was enough. And if you had to fathom another partner, then you shouldn't be married in the first place. A person only has one heart, how can they give it away to more than one person?
"I just don't like the idea of Xueyue marrying a man who will often be away at war. She'll be lonely at home," Duke Li Shenyang spoke for his sons who were struggling to find a proper excuse beyond the basic fact that they wanted to hog Xueyue's attention longer.
Xueyue always knew how to properly go along with the twins—something that many have tried, but failed. It was mainly because her actions were natural and nowhere closed to being forced. She had a refreshing sense of authenticity that was hard to find nowadays.
"Didn't you say the war might come to an end very soon?" Duchess Li Qixing raised a brow. "After that battle at Yijing, which by the way, was won by the Commander you despise, the enemies are ready to raise their white flags. They're severely overstretched and under-resourced for more fighting. If they knew what's for their own good, then they would surrender."
"Now, that, sweetheart, is where you don't understand us men. We're prideful by nature and only until we are forced into a corner will we consider a surrender." Duke Li Shenyang shook his head.
"There are current discussions of a treaty for now and a plan to split the territory we're fighting over in two, but the details have not been finalized yet."
"But it's happening isn't it?"
"Then that means there's a possibility," Duchess Li Qixing smugly said. "Besides, I'm sure you saw how captivated the Commander was. I don't think he's the type to leave his wives at home."
"Wife. Singular, not plural," Li Wenmin scowled. "I'd kill him if he takes another one."
"What is with you and killing?" Duchess Li Qixing exasperated.
"Theoretically, of course, Mother." Li Wenmin sheepishly grinned, but everyone in the tent knew, it was not theoretically.
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