"Wow, that's a pretty face," Li Chenyang snorted when he saw Li Xueyue tiredly walking through the pavilion.
The Li Family usually enjoyed their family meals in a specifically-built dining room that was different from the norm, but today, they decided to eat in the pavilion surrounded by the freshly bloomed hydrangeas. The air was sweet with a light floral scent washing over the people, the breeze welcoming and placid.
It was a pleasant day outside. Too bad it was ruined by a not-so-pleasant sleep.
Li Xueyue groaned at his words, her face dark from her lack of sleep. She had another nightmare yesterday of Zheng Leiyu—of the night she discovered that he cheated on her with Bai Tianai. Honestly, she found this part of his betrayal to be cliche and the stupidest and most predictable of things.
"I didn't sleep well," Li Xueyue sighed, collapsing into her seat while a maidservant handed her a dipping bowl of water for her fingers.
"Must've had something to do with the conversation I heard," Li Chenyang easily commented, as if he was discussing the weather.
"Conversation? What conversation?" Li Wenmin asked while separating the fried egg yolk from the egg white. He placed the egg white into Xueyue's bowl and placed the yolk into his—like it always had been.
"Hm, I didn't hear anything," Duchess Wang Qixing commented while taking off the skin of the braised chicken for Duke Li Shenyang before placing it into his bowl.
"Funny, I heard some really interesting news from a little birdie," Li Chenyang said while deboning the fish for Li Wenmin.
"I like to sleep talk, don't you know?" Li Xueyue awkwardly commented while taking off the skin of the soy sauce and scallion steamed fish for Li Chenyang.
"Really now?" Duke Li Shenyang skeptically said while using his chopsticks to skillfully peel the largest shrimp and placing it in Li Wenmin's bowl.
"Amazing, you can talk to yourself in different tones?" Li Chenyang pretended to be surprised, gasping and shooting her a dirty look.
"What? You can't?" Li Xueyue teased even though she felt a pang of panic settle in at his discontent glare.
"I'm sure I can if I had someone to talk to." Li Chenyang continued to stare her down.
"What are we talking about? I'm so confused," Li Wenmin cluelessly said, finally pausing from gobbling his food. He was wolfing it down so quickly, people would've thought he was a starved cub.
"Xiao Yue, why aren't you eating?" Li Wenmin asked, noticing her lack of appetite today.
Li Chenyang opened his mouth, "Xueyue here, didn't get proper sleep last night because—"
"Ow!" Li Wenmin cried out, "Who kicked me from under the table?!"
Li Xueyue instantly dug into her food, pretending she hadn't just missed Li Chenyang's leg. Li Chenyang snickered at her before placing some steamed spinach in her bowl.
"I think I will hire someone to check over the structure of our manor," Duke Li Shenyang thoughtfully said with a knowing frown.
"What for?" Duchess Wang Qixing said, equally as lost as her son, Li Wenmin. The pair didn't have a single clue about what happened last night.
"To make sure there aren't any problematic areas on the walls," Duke Li Shenyang fondly said before beckoning to his wife to continue eating.
Unbeknownst to him, there was a tiny smile resting on his lips when Duchess Wang drank her soup. There was a time where she didn't eat anything more than a single bite. Seeing her in this condition, lively and thriving, which husband wouldn't be happy?
"Did we have any in the first place?" Duchess Wang Qixing naively asked, tilting her head to Li Chenyang, waiting for him to weigh in.
"I thought we didn't, but it seems the same thing that happened in our old manor is happening in our current one," Li Chenyang grumbled while gesturing for Li Xueyue to try the morning soup.
Li Xueyue blinked. The same thing that happened in the old manor? She didn't recall someone scaling her wall in the old manor. Unless he was talking about someone else?
Maybe Li Wenmin used to sneak out of his room like that? She couldn't imagine him doing it though. He loved sleeping as much as Li Chenyang, maybe a little bit less.
"Huh?" Duchess Wang Qixing blinked, unsure of the circles that her husband and son were fond of going about in.
Li Wenmin merely shrugged. What he learned in his tutoring lessons came to mind—that if he still didn't get it after the second time, he'd never get it until the tenth try—and quite frankly, he was too lazy to think in the morning.
Li Xueyue awkwardly drank her soup, under the accusing stare from Li Chenyang and a humored smile from Duke Li Shenyang.
"Let's start with Xueyue's room," Li Chenyang proposed. "We need to make sure the wall doesn't have any nooks or crannies. Right, Xueyue?"
She played with her food and nodded. "Right."
"Great. We're all on the same page." Li Chenyang smiled, but it never reached his eyes. He was livid whereas the Duke was highly entertained.
'What made Chenyang so protective of Xueyue?' Duke Li Shenyang wondered to himself, watching Chenyang nodding to Xueyue's untouched rice and the dishes she hadn't tried yet. His son didn't eat until Xueyue finally began to consume her food normally.
- - - - -
When their family breakfast had ended, everyone parted and went their separate ways to focus on their own tasks forof the day. Li Xueyue thought she would spend the rest of her day practicing archery, but just as she picked up the bow and arrow, Li Chenyang came storming into the archery field.
He was dressed properly for court, an indignant expression on his handsome face. Li Xueyue wished he'd smile more. It often lit up his entire features.
"Is there a problem?" Li Xueyue curiously asked when Li Chenyang stopped directly in front of her, crossed his arms, and pressed his lips into a firm line.
"Who was in your room last night?"
Li Xueyue awkwardly scratched the side of her face. "Can we drop this conversation?"
"Xueyue, it's damaging for you if word gets out that some bastard had the audacity to knock five of our guards out cold and then snuck into your room."
"Did my guards tell you?"
"No, and don't try to change the subject." Li Chenyang firmly told her. "It's Wen Jinkai, isn't it?"
"I don't want to be the reason you guys aren't friends anymore," Li Xueyue hesitantly said, setting the bow and arrow onto the equipment table.
"What makes you think we're not friends anymore?"
"You guys are always so tense around each other. It's as if you two had an argument or something," Li Xueyue mumbled, glancing at the ground, watching the evergreen blades sway under the rolling breeze.
Li Chenyang's face became gentle. He slowly patted her head and smiled. "Xueyue, you don't have to worry about us."
Li Xueyue realized he didn't exactly answer her properly. "Are you still friends with him? Two years ago, I heard you were great friends, but in the tournament, Wen Jinkai and your reactions towards each other were filled with hostility."
"I didn't think you'd see these things," Li Chenyang said.
"You didn't answer my question."
"We're on... " he trailed off, finding the proper words that wouldn't offend Xueyue or Jinkai. "We're on speaking terms."
"Yes," Li Chenyang curtly said, refusing to reveal any more. Nor would he ever reveal the conversation they shared the afternoon before the banquet. The violent argument that took place, the chairs that were toppled over, the teacups that were smashed to the ground, and the tables that were turned upside down. A discussion about history repeating itself was enough to shred their trust for each other to pieces.
Li Chenyang stared at Xueyue, his eyes memorizing every inch of her features. He looked at her as if he was going to lose her. And perhaps what happened in the past had traumatized him from ever trusting Wen Jinkai with women.
Li Chenyang knew Wen Jinkai rarely fell in love, but when he did, he always fell hard. Without warning, he hugged Li Xueyue tightly, her face pressing into his chest.
"I'm going to keep you safe," Li Chenyang vowed. "You will not wither away from Palace politics, I promise you."
There was something in his emotional voice that made Li Xueyue understand something. This has happened in the past before. He had lost someone, whether involuntarily or not. Did Wen Jinkai and the palace have something to do with it?
She looked up at him, her eyes wide with curiosity. Anguish was written all over his face, fear of losing her, fear of her losing her smile.
Li Chenyang squeezed his eyes shut and hugged her a little bit tighter. Just a little bit, because he knew her life from now on would not be a smooth sailing one. Just like the life of Li Minghua when she was involved with the palace. History was replaying itself, but this time, it would not claim another victim. He would make sure of it.
Please go to https://www.qzxyzy.com/The-Rise-of-Xueyue/
to read the latest chapters for free