\"Neither of you were pardoned,\" Emperor Fadong declared, forcing both men to halt from their chase.
Yu Zhen utilized all of his willpower to not roll his eyes. To him, the Emperor of Wuyi was a joke. What type of ruler had the time to scheme for entertainment when he had a country to worry about? What made him so carefree and relaxed? Unless… there was someone ruling from behind a curtain.
\"It seems the little lady's line of suitors has increased.\" Emperor Fadong chuckled when Yu Zhen did not turn around. The Emperor smirked to himself when he saw Yu Zhen's finger twitch in irritation. Someone had to teach this Commander that he was on enemy soil, not his home. His behavior might be excusable in Hanjian, but it was not accepted in Wuyi.
\"Oh, but don't worry, Commander Yu Zhen. Xueyue has not been promised to another yet. As a matter of fact…\" Emperor Fadong briefly glanced at Wen Jinkai's taut body, \"She can't be promised unless it's her own will.\"
\"Oh?\" Yu Zhen turned around and mused, \"Do tell.\"
Wen Jinkai snarled, \"She has been promised to me.\"
\"Did she say that?\" Yu Zhen teased, tossing Wen Jinkai a smirk. \"It didn't seem that way.\"
\"She's a stubborn one.\" Wen Jinkai shrugged. \"She has my pendant and I have hers.\"
In this lifetime, only one pendant was allowed to possess a person's full name. Once exchanged, it could not be taken back unless it was broken.
Yu Zhen raised a brow. \"So?\" He sighed, \"Why do you guys place so much value on pendants when they're merely accessories to decorate the waist?\"
Emperor Fadong frowned in displeasure. How did Commander Yu Zhen have the audacity to question the tradition of a kingdom in front of the ruler himself? \"Does Hanjian not value tradition?\"
\"Hanjian does not have meaningless traditions such as a binding pendant. There are too many flaws in it. What if it gets forcibly stolen from the person? What shall happen then?\" Yu Zhen's words were harsh, but his chilling smile was harsher. On the surface, he was known to be warm, friendly, and welcoming. In reality, he had more demons than one could possibly count. A lethal man who hides his malice behind a comforting smile.
Wen Jinkai found this type of man to be the most dangerous. He'd kill with a smile and pretend the person fell on their sword. A worthy opponent on the battlefield, but the same can't be said of him as a suitor. He was someone who could easily trick the hearts of women. Manipulative by nature.
Wen Jinkai knew it was best to keep Li Xueyue away from him. He did not want her to get hurt from facades. It was just a pity that he had understood what type of man Yu Zhen was, not what kind of lover he'd be.
\"Well, the lady can always declare it was stolen.\"
\"Who mentioned anything about a lady?\" Yu Zhen sniped, \"I find it so humorous, Emperor, that you have the time of day to meddle with an innocent life.\"
Empress Huiyun slammed her hand on the armrest of her throne. \"You brazen—\"
\"Careful now, Empress. You wouldn't want your temper to show.\" Yu Zhen's smile widened.
Had he hit a sore spot in the royal family? How could Wuyi function so well with them as leaders? Who was the person ruling behind the curtain? The person closest to the Emperor…
\"If we will have meaningless discussions about marriage and not peace alliances, please pardon me. I have better things to do.\" Yu Zhen dipped in a slight bow and left without waiting for the Emperor and Empress to speak.
Duke Li Shenyang's eyes narrowed on Yu Zhen, disliking the man's reckless, but impactful words. Yu Zhen's previous statements were close to hitting home, for what he said was very true.
The Duke did not need someone to meddle in his business and duties. Yu Zhen seemed like someone who would find great pleasure in flipping over stones that should remain unturned.
Seething to himself at the behavior of the Emperor today, Duke Li Shenyang decided it was time to have a thorough discussion with his good friend. Specifically, a discussion behind a thick curtain where no one would hear their bickering and disagreements.
- - - - -
\"Seriously, does he have nothing better to do?\" Yu Zhen muttered to himself whilst walking side-by-side with Hu Dengxiao and Lu Tianbi who were far from happy. It aggravated them that they were not allowed into the throne room to join the discussion. If they had entered, they would surely roast the Emperor to ashes with their remarks.
Hu Dengxiao spoke up, \"Don't you find it odd that Wuyi was originally struggling up until two years ago? Originally, everything was in shambles, but then they came back stronger than ever.\"
He pondered it a bit before continuing, \"Better taxes, better leadership, better agriculture, and everything became well-managed. It was as if there was a change in leadership.\"
Sighing to herself, Lu Tianbi added on, \"How is this country even flourishing with that man as the ruler?\"
Lu Tianbi frowned while rolling her thumb on a gold coin. \"I've never seen an outside influence so keen on ruining the life of a woman. Poor girl. What did she do to incur their wrath?\"
Both Hu Dengxiao and Lu Tianbi had lingered close enough to the throne room to eavesdrop on the conversation, but they couldn't put the pieces together to form a full puzzle.
\"The Emperor mentioned something about a long line of suitors,\" Hu Dengxiao commented while placing both hands behind his head in a leisure walk. \"Maybe that has something to do with it? A woman who knows her worth is a dangerous one.\"
\"She has a strong backing,\" Yu Zhen thoughtfully said. \"It'd be impossible to bring her down directly… which had prompted the royal family to do it through different means.\"
\"Interesting…\" Lu Tianbi hummed. \"But doesn't her surname remind you of someone?\"
Hu Dengxiao's brows crinkled. He came to a screeching halt. \"Now that you mention it, she does. What was her name again?\"
\"Li Xueyue,\" Yu Zhen muttered, sighing to himself. Even her name was adoring.
\"A Li?\" Hu Dengxiao scratched the back of his head. He was sure he had heard that surname before. Where was it?
\"They've been around since the establishment of the current dynasty,\" Yu Zhen said. \"They're an old tree.\"
\"Ancient trees have stronger roots,\" Lu Tianbi added on. \"Roots that are stemmed deeply are harder to remove.\"
\"Indeed.\" Yu Zhen smiled to himself, finally arriving at a theory. \"We'll discuss this more in private. Don't report back to my father just yet.\"
\"I didn't plan on reporting back to our Emperor so quickly.\" Hu Dengxiao shrugged. \"Besides, he'd prefer the words of his son a lot more than ours.\"
Yu Zhen scoffed to himself. When had the Emperor of Hanjian ever treated him like a son? He knew he could not blame his father who had too many sons to count. \"Perhaps.\"
\"Are you going to continue pursuing her?\" Lu Tianbi asked. \"She will be useful.\"
\"You know I never use women.\" Yu Zhen frowned in displeasure. \"I'd never use her.\"
\"That's for you to find out and me to know.\" Yu Zhen chuckled, shaking his head. In the corner of his eyes, he saw something that caught his attention. Smiling to himself, he instantly began heading towards that direction whilst abandoning his peers to converse amongst themselves.