"Father, you've called for us?" Li Wenmin asked, walking into the private study where he noticed several scrolls were sprawled open on the desk.
At the sight of his sons, Duke Li Shenyang picked up a scroll and began to roll it back up. "Yes, I heard an interesting question yesterday."
"Someone visited?" Li Wenmin asked, noticing a huge chunk was missing from the bookshelves. What was his father reading so early in the morning?
"Who?" Li Chenyang questioned, remaining by the door. This conversation shouldn't take too long, breakfast would be ready soon. His mother disliked it when they were late for family meals. It was one of the rare moments they could all be together, thus she cherished these special times the most.
"Commander Yu Zhen of Hanjian," Duke Li Shenyang answered. Disapproval hung in the air. "Did you see someone escaping from Xueyue's room?"
"No, why would I?" Li Wenmin scratched the back of his head, oblivious of the facts in front of him. "What did Yu Zhen want to talk about?"
"Are you sure no one left?"
"Yes, I'm certain." Li Wenmin frowned. "Is there something I should know?"
"Nevermind," Duke Li Shenyang responded. He wondered if Yu Zhen had enough integrity to leave and not stay the night. As Xueyue's guardian, the Duke would prefer if Yu Zhen had left after comforting her. He shouldn't cross boundaries like a certain Commander of Wuyi.
"Yu Zhen asked something so peculiar, I couldn't help but wonder who else might have also thought of this," Duke Li Shenyang began. He gestured to his sons to walk and talk with him so that neither of them were late for breakfast.
"Do you think there is a ruler behind the curtains in Wuyi?" The Duke decided to not beat around the bush. Besides, Li Chenyang would catch on since he was so direct.
Li Chenyang cast a side glance towards his father. "A few Ministers have whispered about such conspiracy theories. The older, conservative ones like to think these are foolish talks."
"Who do they think is the ruler?" Duke Li Shenyang wondered out loud.
"Could it be Grandmother?" Li Wenmin spoke up. "The Empress Dowager. I still recall the rumors of what happened to our late grandfather. She was a very attentive mother to our uncle, a bit too pampering if you ask me."
"Yes, there have always been rumors speculating about the late Emperor." Duke Li Shenyang nodded. "Then again, every mother wants the best for their children. The same applies to your mother. If anything was to happen to her child, she'd do everything to ruin the person that harmed you guys."
"The same applies to Minghua?" Li Wenmin asked.
Duke Li Shenyang momentarily hesitated. He briefly looked towards his son whose face was stony and guarded. "Indeed. She would turn a blind eye to the murder of her relatives if she found out who started the fire."
"What makes you think it's one of our relatives?" Li Wenmin pointed out, his eyes flashed with suspicion.
"It was just a hypothesis." Duke Li Shenyang laughed it off. "Chenyang, who do you think is behind the curtain?"
Li Chenyang stared at his father with an unreadable expression. "There have not been any names dropped, but there have been speculations."
"Is that so?" Duke Li Shenyang thoughtfully said. "Well then, who do they speculate?"
"Are you sure you want to know, Father?" Li Chenyang asked. "You know, I've been hearing something else in the courts."
"How incompetent our uncle is," Li Chenyang deadpanned.
All three of them stopped walking at once. Li Wenmin examined their surroundings, noting there weren't any servants within their proximity who could hear them. Li Chenyang knew this was a less frequented area, thus, he decided to say it now rather than later.
"They think he doesn't do anything for the court except sit around sipping tea, playing with his concubines, and deciding who else he should marry for the benefit of our country," Li Chenyang concluded, beginning to walk again.
"They know you were the mastermind behind the restoration of our economy, improvement of agriculture, well-managed taxes, and fair laws," Li Chenyang commented. "It's a known fact how competent our Prime Minister is."
"You flatter me."
"I never flatter people. I simply state the facts," Li Chenyang responded. He turned to Li Wenmin who was lost in thought. "Has the military made talks about our uncle?"
"They're not the biggest fan of him ever since he cut funding for the military after the peace alliance with Hanjian. We're lacking resources that we used to have ample of." Li Wenmin grunted.
Li Chenyang decided to put his speculation to test. "Do you think you can do anything about it Father? Just because the war has ended does not mean we should stop improving our fighters."
"You know the matters of this country are all handled by the Emperor, especially the military. But you can ask Commander Wen Jinkai. He's closer to that man," Duke Li Shenyang explained.
Li Chenyang smiled to himself. Of course, his father always knew how to dodge the traps. "None of us are on good terms with him."
"The majority of Wuyi's militia listens to him. He has garnered respect amongst his seniors and juniors alike. Men with twice the experiences as him are willing to bow their heads in acknowledgement when Commander Wen Jinkai walks by," Li Wenmin sneered.
Li Wenmin was one of the rare people who had stopped properly greeting the man aside from a firm nod on the head. He couldn't bring himself to like the Commander anymore, especially when he was now involving himself with the life of another sister of his yet again.
"Wen Jinkai would make a beneficial ally to us. It's a shame Xueyue is not interested in him."
"Father!" Li Wenmin protested. "You promised you wouldn't marry her to whoever you pleased!"
"Now, now, Wenmin, I never said anything about marriage. I was simply making a comment. It's not like I will force her to marry him." Duke Li Shenyang shook his head in disapproval at how rash his son was.
"Do I seem like that type of cruel father?" he added on.
Li Wenmin let out a sigh of relief. "I'm sorry, it's just… I don't want what happened to Li Minghua to happen again. When she was in the Palace, she couldn't even leave without her fiance's permission."
Li Wenmin's lips dipped into a frown. "And when she did come back to the Capital, she was always in her room writing in that stupid book of hers—the one I gifted her in Hechen for her fifteenth birthday. The same one she used to write in during our stay in Hechen."
"What book?" Duke Li Shenyang frowned. "She kept a diary?"
"I don't know. She said she liked to write stories because they were an escape from reality." Li Wenmin sighed. "I tried to find the book, hoping it'd give us insight on what happened in the short six months she spent in the Palace, but I couldn't find it."
Li Chenyang's brows shot up. "Do you think there was a possibility that she brought the book with her back to Hechen when she fled the Palace and demanded to go back to our house in Hechen?"
"I do not know. There could be a possibility that she left the book in this house and didn't take it with her back to Hechen when…" Li Wenmin struggled to finish his sentence. In a lowered voice, he whispered, "when half of the manor was burned."
"It'd be impossible for the book to survive the fire in that case. As you're aware, the fire spread mainly in Minghua's side of the house." Duke Li Shenyang sighed. He did not like speaking about the past, but now that things were beginning to unravel, perhaps it was time to dig into it.
Duke Li Shenyang just wished he solely remembered the pure joy on her face when she left for the Capital. He wished he didn't remember what happened half a year after she entered the Capital. Li Minghua had fled to her parents in Hechen in utter grief.
When she came back to Hechen heartbroken and frightened, a shell of the girl she used to be, both the Duke and Duchess set off to the Capital, demanding answers for her despair.
By the time they returned to Hechen empty-handed, there was a fire that spread out the night before. They had arrived in Hechen with half of their manor burned to the ground. And of course, everything was renovated after the fire, but nothing could wipe the fact that there wasn't even a trace of Li Minghua. It was as if her body completely perished in the fire and the fact that they had nothing to remember her by was the most heartbreaking truth.
Please go to https://www.qzxyzy.com/The-Rise-of-Xueyue/
to read the latest chapters for free