When Minister Li walked out of the Li Manor empty-handed, the Palace Eunuchs exchanged meaningful stares with each other. They bowed at his entrance, but they were disappointed that the reputable Li Chenyang would disobey a royal summoning.
"May we ask why, Minister Li?"
"Princess Li Xueyue is feeling unwell. She didn't eat breakfast and has been bedridden the entire morning," Li Chenyang lied without flinching. He didn't even blink.
The Eunuchs hesitated on their next approach. They were supposed to bring their third-rank Princess into the Palace today at the unrelenting order of the Emperor and Empress of Wuyi.
"May we see her?"
"You want to barge into the room of a sick young lady just to see her?" Li Chenyang responded, his voice filled with disbelief. "Does the Palace not teach you any manners?"
The Eunuchs shrank back, bowing for him again. They were scared of disobeying the Imperial Family, but they were also afraid of offending the Li Family. Everyone knew Li Chenyang, despite being the youngest Minister in the court, was the coldest and most ruthless one.
"We do not dare to offend you, Minister Li!"
"Yet you doubt my words," Li Chenyang bluntly said, flicking his wrist. Instantly, the carriage door was opened for him.
"Report to the Emperor that the Princess is unwell. The Duke and the Duchess do not wish for her to get sicker by the day." He continued to belittle and scrutinize them until they broke out in cold sweat, trembling in their shoes.
"We c-can't leave unless w-we see the Princess…" they managed to stutter out.
They jumped when Li Chenyang slammed a Eunuch against his carriage, his eyes ablaze. "Did you not hear what I just said?"
"Please, M-Minister Li, we—"
"If the Emperor has a problem with this, he can come here and see her condition for himself."
The Eunuchs gulped with their eyes trained to the floor. When a tense minute passed by, they finally relented. "Very well, Minister Li, we will report back to His Majesty and Her Grace."
Li Chenyang did not board his carriage until the Eunuchs finally got onto theirs. He waited until the Eunuch's carriage finally rolled off into the distance before turning to one of his servants.
"You heard what I just said. Leave."
Instantly, his servant, a man with thin shoulders, bowed at his order. He understood the underlying message that didn't need to be said. He excused himself and rushed into the manor, ready to personally guide Lady Li back to her room where she will diligently laze around the entire day.
Li Chenyang waited for the man's shadow to disappear before he finally got onto the carriage. The doors were firmly shut and the carriage began heading in the direction of the royal palace where troubles awaited him. But when did it not wait for him?
Inside the carriage, Li Chenyang sighed in relief whilst tapping his fingers one by one on his thigh. He had prevented Li Xueyue from placing a foot through the doors of Hell today, but this was only one small victory compared to the many battles that would come her way. The Palace would grow persistent to see her—the only unwed Princess living outside of the castle walls.
"I kept her safe, Minghua… I should've done the same for you," he quietly muttered to himself, leaning his head back on the headrest of his seat.
As much as he despised that conniving brat, he could not forgive himself from turning a blind-eye to her struggles. He could not forgive himself for not stopping her from sneaking outside every night, only to be caught in the crossroad of two men who were head over heels in love with her.
- - - - -
After being escorted back to her room for reasons that she did not know, Li Xueyue found herself bored out of her mind. She leaned her cheek on a propped up arm whilst reading a book. She had reread the same sentence five times and still couldn't concentrate on the material.
Li Xueyue didn't like being cooped up in this room. She wanted to go out and bask in the sunlight whilst doing archery, or maybe even going on a run with Heiyue.
It had been a while since she tended to her horse, but she was incredibly busy. And the stubborn horse would not let anyone else ride him. She had always given the stable boy permission to let him run and roam free, but she knew Heiyue preferred her presence than running alone.
After rereading the exact same sentence for the sixth time, she finally slammed the book onto the table. She loved to read, but at times like this, she was too distracted and desired to walk around.
Since she could not be found roaming the fields, Li Xueyue decided she would explore all of the hidden nooks and crannies of the house.
"No harm in roaming in the house…" she thought to herself before opening her door only to find it blocked.
"I'm going to the gardens," she told her guards, stepping out but they stopped her in her path.
"My lady, in that case, please wear a face veil to hide your identity."
Li Xueyue sighed before heading back into her room. She approached her vanity and searched through the drawers until she finally found a face veil. It hooked from one ear to the other and revealed nothing more than half of her nose and her eyes.
Then, she headed out of the room, and made her way to the garden, but then decided to explore the other wings and hallways of this house instead. Turning corners after corners, she found herself in a dark part of the house she didn't think was even possible.
The Duke always liked his house to be well-lit. Thus, the servants were always instructed to double-check all of the lamps in the hallways, making sure that every corner had a bright light guiding people on their path.
On her tour two years ago, she had memorized the layout, but had never come across this area before. During that time, the twins were the ones who took her on the tour, but they brought her nowhere near this place.
"Am I lost in my own house?" Li Xueyue wondered out loud, glancing at the eerily dark surroundings of this place.
She hadn't seen someone ever since she made it to this unknown wing of the house. The last time she saw a guard stationed at this place was a little way back, but he had fallen asleep on his post which granted her access here.
"Way to go, Xueyue. You actually got lost," she berated herself, deciding to head down the path she came from before pausing in her step. Should she explore…?
Li Xueyue didn't know what she was thinking when she decided to test one of the doors of the hallway. Surprisingly, it was locked which felt strange. Not a single door was locked in this house, but suddenly, everything was locked here?
"How weird," she said out loud while testing almost all of the doors. Finally, she decided that this place must've been locked for a reason. She didn't want to dwell too much on it, that's until she passed by a set of doors and instantly came to a halt.
One of the doors was slightly open by a crack. The only door that wasn't locked.
"Maybe I should head back to my room…" Li Xueyue trailed off. She debated for the briefest second and groaned. Curiosity killed the cat. She decided to push the door, wincing when it loudly creaked open which indicated it had not been used for a long time.
A storm of dust attacked her. She coughed and swatted her hand back and forth in front of her face. This place had been untouched for a long time. But why?
She peeked her head inside and was intrigued to see it was a bedroom. A large and girly one. For guests perhaps? But that didn't make sense. All of the guest bedrooms were nowhere near here.
"Hmmm…." she hummed to herself, slipping into the room. Everything was intact, from the untouched bed to the vanity collecting dust. None of the servants cleaned this place, as if someone wanted every single detail to be preserved in its original and undisturbed form.
Li Xueyue wandered into the room and nearly fell flat on her face after tripping on something.
"What the heck?" she piqued upon discovering what caused her to lose her footing.
One of the floorboards had uprooted significantly. She frowned to herself and decided to step on it, hoping it would fall down in place. But it didn't. And there was resistance under her foot as if something was wedged under the floorboard.
Li Xueyue bent down to examine the floor. She simply pushed at the wooden board and it instantly came out of the floor, almost as if it was loose for a while now.
"Is that a book?" Li Xueyue wondered to herself, reaching down to take out the content hidden under the uprooted wooden board. Indeed, it was a book and when she flipped through the pages, she realized it was a diary. But the question was, who did it belong to?
"We have to find the lady! Where did she go?"
Li Xueyue jumped at the abrupt and frantic voice of a servant in the far distance. Instantly, she put the wooden board into place and held the book close to her, deciding to examine it in her room.
She slipped out of the room, closing the door behind her and then rushed out of the entrance of this place. Luckily enough, the guard was still deeply asleep, snoring even.
After walking back to the main house, she nearly collided into a rushing servant. "There you are, my lady," she said while panting for air.
"Is there a problem?" Li Xueyue asked while slipping the book behind her, hiding it from the servant.
"N-no… but we've received strict orders to escort you back to your room, my lady."
"Okay, let's head back," Li Xueyue said, deciding that she would read the contents of the diary once she was in her room.
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