122 Start of the Wang Dynasty
Hu Dengxiao squirmed in his chair. There was something he desperately wanted to ask his Commander but was too scared to ask. He began drawing circles on the table with his finger, his nerves reaching its limits.
"What is it, Dengxiao?" Yu Zhen asked.
"It's just…" Hu Dengxiao sunk deeper into his chair and blurted, "I've been meaning to ask this, but of course you don't have to answer. You know I'm always a curious person. I like to know things and I try to not be so nosy, but I just can't help but want to know and—"
"You're rambling again," Lu Tianbi commented as Hu Dengxiao pouted to himself, continuing to draw an invisible masterpiece on the table with his finger.
Yu Zhen patiently waited for his strategist to speak up. He remained quiet and peaceful. He didn't mind Hu Dengxiao's occasional rambling, he was just too energetic for his own good.
"Do you plan to stay in Wuyi just for Xueyue?" Hu Dengxiao finally asked, jumping when Yu Zhen's eyes snapped to him. "What I meant was, uhm... Do you plan to bring Xueyue back with us?"
"Why do you ask?" Yu Zhen questioned.
"It's just…" Hu Dengxiao nibbled on his bottom lip. "I've never seen a woman capture your interest as intensely as her. You're a lot… nicer around her. For once, i-it looks like you've found…"
Lu Tianbi swallowed, staring down at her hands. She knew what Hu Dengxiao would say. For once, her Commander seemed genuinely happy and content with his life. It had been awhile since she last saw him with emotions beyond political smiles and polite nods.
"...as if you've found hope," Hu Dengxiao finished whilst poking his forefingers together like an uncertain child.
Hu Dengxiao didn't want to make assumptions, but he was hoping it was the case.
At the thought of Li Xueyue as his beacon of hope, Yu Zhen couldn't help but relish in the moments they've spent together. From the wrinkle of her nose when she was irked, to the lovely curl of her lips when she suppressed a smile, every little habit of hers came to mind. An adoring little cub with terrible bite but amazing bark.
Yu Zhen was suddenly reminded of how sharp and clear her eyes were. In the sunlight, it was gorgeous and blinding, dazzling as topaz and deep as amber. He couldn't wipe the image of her smile out of his mind.
When he looked at her, he saw a future he didn't think was possible. He saw strength and resilience He saw a witty but sheepish smile, and a curious yet understanding heart.
She was sugar and spice—everything good in this world. He originally thought she was a complex puzzle he wanted to solve but didn't know what to do after. Now, he simply wanted to fit in the puzzle and end up with her in the bigger picture.
"Is that so," was his simple response. He was so lost in his daydream to even realize the stunned silence in the room.
Lu Tianbi and Hu Dengxiao exchanged knowing glances towards each other. Had they just witnessed the same thing, or were their eyes playing tricks on them? Their ruthless and blank as a stone Commander's features were softened and there was a ghost of a smile on his face, his gaze lost in wonderland. Who could've evoked such a gentle expression from him?
His daydream was enough to let them know that Li Xueyue affected him more than he would ever understand.
Hu Dengxiao's lips could not stop fidgeting. He wanted to smile at this revelation but feared it would pull Yu Zhen out of this happy-go-lucky state. This was such a celebratory discovery that he was inclined to throw a party just to congratulate his Commander. Eventually, he too was lost in la-la land, blinking, and awing at scenarios that haven't occurred yet.
In the end, Lu Tianbi shook her head with a knowing smile. Her heartless Commander was finally smitten by a woman and he didn't even realize it. What an interesting turn of events it was.
- - - - -
The Li Manor.
Li Chenyang paced back and forth outside of his parent's bedroom. To ask or not to ask? With one curled finger resting under his bottom lip, his arm resting on a folded one, he resembled a scholar trying to decipher the meaning of life. A crease formed between his brows whilst he was lost in a spiral of to ask or not to ask.
He had formed a surreal conclusion that had been puzzling him all day. After watching his father successfully convince the Emperor that Xueyue was bedridden again, Li Chenyang couldn't help but think about his father's peculiar question: "Do you think there is a ruler behind the curtains in Wuyi?"
When the doors abruptly slid open, Li Chenyang jumped. He instantly relaxed, blowing out a sigh of relief upon seeing who it was.
"Is there a problem, sweetheart?" Duchess Wang Qixing stepped aside, welcoming her son to the couch. "How was your day at court?"
"It went smoothly as usual," Li Chenyang responded, settling onto the couch. "Where's Dad?"
"Hmph, he's in his private study spending more time with his books than with his wife." Duchess Wang Qixing crossed her arms, deciding to lock the doors tonight. If he liked to stay up so late, he shouldn't disturb her sleep.
"Father has been reading a lot of political books lately, hasn't he?" Li Chenyang chuckled at his mother's childish antics. It kept her young at heart.
"He should be focusing that time on me."
"I'll let him know that." Li Chenyang shook his head and suggested, "In the meantime, locking the doors to the guest bedrooms sounds like a great plan."
Duchess Wang Qixing grinned at the idea of locking him out everywhere. He'd have no bed to sleep in, except the couch in his room, which he was the least fond of.
She nodded. "Great idea, I'll inform the servants."
"Jinxia?" She waved for her head maidservant to step forward. Jinxia politely bowed her head, waiting for the command. She had accompanied Duchess Wang for the majority of their life and despite their years of acquaintance, always insisted on sticking to titles and respectful manners.
"Yes, my lady?"
"Lock all of the guest bedroom doors. Instruct the guards to not let their Master through and if he demands it, the guards can tell him to look for me."
Jinxia lightly smiled and nodded her head. "Right away, my lady." She bowed yet again and was excused to perform the task.
"By the way, Mother, I have an interesting question to ask. Please don't think too much into it, it's only a theoretical idea." Li Chenyang watched his mother's reaction.
Duchess Wang Qixing nodded her head in understanding. "Well, ask away. I'm always an open book to my adorable little boys." She reached over, pinching his cheek, despite the fact that he was a grown man with a job.
He groaned, swatting at her hand, but she only pinched him harder, snickering when he finally gave in. He could be old and wrinkly, and she'd continue to view him as a child who needed her assistance.
"Do you think Dad has a lot of influence in the court?"
"Of course. He's the Prime Minister after all." Duchess Wang Qixing mused, "His father, your paternal grandfather, was the Prime Minister and your great-grandfather was also the Prime Minister. This position has always been prominent in the Li Family."
"That means we've built enough connections in court to support us for lifetimes to come. Right?" he asked.
Duchess Wang Qixing nodded her head.
"Which gave him the qualifications to marry you without qualms. Right?"
Duchess Wang Qixing quietly hummed before saying, "Not really. Before our marriage, there were many disagreements from the royal family. Your father was the first in his family to wed a Princess, despite the historic connections between the Li and Wang family."
Li Chenyang raised a brow. There were problems? What did she mean by that? He wasn't aware of this. He had always thought his parents' relationship was smooth sailing since day one.
"The Li Family has always served the Imperial Family?" he asked.
"Yes. This relationship dates back to the start of the Wang Dynasty."
Li Chenyang dropped the unexpected bombshell on her. "In that case, who do you love more, Mother? The Li Family or the Wang?"