\"I'm going to kill you,\" Li Wenmin snarled, unsheathing his sword the second Xueyue was whisked out of the carriage. \"What the hell did you do to my sister?!\" he demanded, storming towards Wen Jinkai who could instantly knock the sword from his hand.
\"Do you realize what you've done?\" Li Wenmin seethed as he grabbed the unmoving Commander by the collar, yanking him close. \"You've sullied her reputation. Three hours alone with a man, unaccompanied by her maidservants. Do you understand the damage it could have on her future? The whispers have already begun, you bastard.\"
\"I once respected you as a man and a Commander, but look at the mess you've created,\" he hissed and pointed to the golden staircase. \"You better fucking explain yourself to the Emperor.\"
Li Xueyue was perplexed by the grim faces of Duke and Duchess Li. Duchess Li Qixing was distraught beyond words, her eyes moistened. She was on the verge of tears and the Duke couldn't do anything about it.
Duke Li Shenyang was pained by the sight of an unsuspecting Xueyue who didn't know her future was ruined. It wasn't the fact that she missed the sword-fighting tournament. It was what the Commander had done to her. He had sealed her fate for the worst.
\"Oh, sweetheart,\" Duchess Li Qixing's voice cracked. She reached for Xueyue and tightly embraced her.
\"I'm so sorry…\" her tone was filled with remorse. \"I should've done something. I should've stopped the Commander, instead of allowing him anywhere near you.\"
Duchess Li Qixing pulled back to examine Xueyue's face, only for a pitiful sob to surface from her throat. She hugged Xueyue again. \"I never meant for this to happen. I shouldn't have suggested this tournament to you. We should've stayed home. You would've been far safer at home than anywhere else.\"
Li Chenyang silently brooded to himself, even though he wanted to murder the Commander on the spot. He loathed that man more than anything because he just destroyed Xueyue's life. It wasn't the first time Wen Jinkai ruined a daughter of Duke and Duchess Li.
\"I-it's going to be okay, everything will be fine.\" Duchess Li Qixing struggled to maintain her composure. She was on the verge of breaking down, her voice as brittle as a quivering leaf.
\"Darling, you're scaring her,\" Duke Lu Shenyang said while placing a comforting hand on his wife. He had hoped it would calm her down, but it didn't. She hugged Xueyue tighter.
\"I don't care what they think. I'm going to take her home,\" Duchess Li Qixing declared, her eyes burning with determination. She was planning to take Xueyue to a safe house where the clutches of the Imperial Family could never reach her.
\"Don't be irrational.\" Duke Li Shenyang frowned. \"We cannot—\"
\"I don't care,\" Duchess Li Qixing argued. \"I'm not going to lose her to—\"
\"Li Xueyue?\" the Eunuch piqued.
Duchess Li Qixing's moistened eyes dried up. She forced herself to remain placid even though she was losing grip on her sanity. Her thoughts spiraled down to the day she lost Li Minghua to the fire. The day they declared her missing. The day ashes raised to the sky, disappearing without a trace. Her body was supposedly burnt to nothingness.
She had already lost a daughter once. She would not allow herself to lose another.
Li Chenyang's calm and collected expression strengthened into neutrality. He didn't faze at the sight of the Imperial guards who spread around the Li Family in an unbreakable formation. They were armed and ready to capture Xueyue.
A Eunuch dressed in forest-green robes came forward with a thick and heavy scroll in his hands. He respectfully bowed before the esteemed Duke and Duchess Li.
\"Greetings to our Honorable Prime Minister, the graceful Duchess Li Qixing.\"
He turned to the twins and bowed and greeted, \"As well as, Minister Li Chenyang and General Li Wenmin.\"
His eyes widened a fraction when he saw the Commander. He nearly dropped to his knees at the merciless glower piercing through his skull. Forcing himself to stick to protocols, he bowed to the Commander as well. \"Blessings to our esteemed Commander Wen Jinkai.\"
\"I come forth bearing splendid announcements, declared by the great Emperor and gracious Empress of our nation.\" The Eunuch flicked his wrist and the scroll fell open, revealing the unmistakable calligraphy and blood-red stamp of the Imperial Family attached.
\"Li Xueyue, daughter of Duke Li Shenyang and Duchess Li Qixing has been bestowed a splendid opportunity to represent our nation's good will with our bordering nation, Hanjian! At the first blush of dawn, she will be welcomed to Hanjian with open arms!\"
\"Please come forward, Miss Li, you have been gifted with this momentous opportunity!\"
His words were welcoming and dubious, but when he waved his hands, soldiers stepped forward. They were prepared to escort her to the Imperial Family, and should she try to run, they were given orders to capture her and drag her before the knees of the Emperor and Empress.
One of the girls had already tried to run for her life but was already yanked to the golden staircase. She was shamed until she had practically begged to be married off, teary-face and all.
Li Wenmin's hand hovered over the hilt of his sword, a dangerous glint in his eyes. Which soldier was foolish enough to be the first one to step close to Xueyue? Who had the guts to lay hands on his mei-mei?
\"Don't be shy now, Miss Li.\" The Eunuch revealed a bright smile, as he gestured to the onlooking crowd. Everyone was eager-faced and happily smiling for her, but deep down, they were all grateful that their daughters were not chosen to be married off in a foreign land, forced to start a new life amongst enemies.
\"See, everyone is waiting for you to perform the walk of honor.\" The Eunuch bent low and waved his hand to the ground, where a long, magnificent rug was laid out for Xueyue to step foot on. The brightest shade of red decorated with gold borders and designs.
Silence fell upon them when Xueyue didn't move. Neither did Duke Li Shenyang or his wife. He stood protectively in front of her, whilst Duchess Li Qixing firmly held Xueyue to her body.
\"I understand you're very nervous. That's expected,\" the Eunuch said in a friendly and jolly tone. \"These kind soldiers will guide you.\"
Instantly, the soldiers took menacing steps forward. They kept their eyes locked on the target, the beautiful woman in blue. They didn't want to offend such a great household, but a mission was a mission. They would carry it out, even if it meant dying for the task. That was what they were ruthlessly trained for.
\"I can tell you're still hesitant. Well, fear not.\" The Eunuch nodded his head. That was the signal these soldiers needed to force their way through Duke Li Shenyang. A sharp gasp could be heard when the unmistakable sound of a sword unsheathing could be heard.
\"Did I give a command to approach the Prime Minister?\" Li Wenmin coldly snarled, his eyes set ablaze. He was prepared to kill if needed.
\"At attention!\" he growled, the sound stiffened the spines of the soldiers who exchanged glances amongst themselves.
Li Wenmin was multiple ranks above normal Imperial soldiers, but these were not regular soldiers. They were actually part of the private army trained by a freightsome Commander who wanted the best for them. His methods were gruesome and strenuous, but in the end, produced excellent soldiers with an unwavering conscience to sacrifice it all for their country.
Not wanting to offend the outstanding General, the soldiers swiftly turned to him, cupped their fist and declared, \"We cannot comply with that order, General Li Wenmin. Please pardon our impudence.\"
That was the last thing they said before moving to grab Li Xueyue.
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