Emperor Fadong quietly hummed to himself. How should he deal with this fiery spitball? Li Xueyue had the soft features of an submissive daughter, but looks could be deceiving. She had the intelligence of a wild spirit bent on running free. She could not be chained down, so long as she used her words as a shield.
"Yes, I suppose you're correct. We said we wouldn't help you anymore," Emperor Fadong agreed with her, nodding his head.
Li Xueyue let out a silent sigh of relief. Her tense shoulders slightly relaxed. She didn't know this was only the beginning of her troubles.
"Do you know the beauty of words, Little Lady?" the Emperor suddenly asked, causing her to blink once, twice, thrice.
"Words are cruel. They can heal, but also harm. They speak for us when our actions can't. They can build up but also destroy. There is no beauty in them," Li Xueyue answered, her words leaving an impact on everyone in the room.
Emperor Fadong was astonished by her profundity, and the way she was able to twist things to her favor. Not a minute had passed since his question and she was able to spin such an elaborate reply.
e decided she was right.
Li Xueyue was indeed, too young to be married off. She would be more useful as an unwed woman than a wedded one. She wasn't meant to be the idle wife of a Commander, she was meant for far more than that. But what could her use be?
"You are correct, as always." He laughed, the sound foreign to his own ears.
Whether the Emperor's laugh was genuine or forced, no one knew for sure. The Emperor was often unpredictable, doing as he pleased.
"The problem with words is that you can always retract it. Just like how I will retract what I said last time." The Emperor's lips pulled into a smile, his eyes narrowed. He hid his scheming nature behind it, but she saw right through him.
"You have a splendid future ahead of you. Your tongue will be your tool, unless… it's sliced off." The Emperor's smile widened. He was relaxed as if he hadn't just threatened to take away one of her most useful assets.
A heavy silence fell over them. No one said anything. No one moved. Not even Li Chenyang had expected this.
Li Xueyue was the first to break the tension. She laughed.
Everyone was surprised by her reaction. The ministers exchanged perplexed expressions with each other. Had she lost her mind? Maybe Li Xueyue was right, the medicine she took must've affected her mental state.
Who would have the guts to laugh at the words of the Emperor as if they were bluffs? Who would laugh in a serious conversation like this? Her life was already hanging on by a thread, but this slice of tension also cut her lifeline.
Li Xueyue was doomed.
"Ever the jokester, Your Majesty." Li Xueyue settled down, her lips twisted into a smile mirroring his. She was the epitome of calm. Unfazed by his threats, she patiently waited for him to continue.
Suddenly, a booming laughter filled the throne room. It was loud like the crackle of thunder, spontaneous like the burst of hanging fireworks, a sound too harsh to the ears. Then he abruptly stopped laughing.
Who was the crazy person now?
"Jokes keep my heart young," he finally said, his smile finally reaching his eyes. "Your reactions are refreshing as usual, Little Lady. You never fail to amuse me. What shall I do with you then?"
"Absolutely nothing, Your Majesty. You don't have to stress yourself out just to worry about my wellbeing." She bowed her head and continued, "I truly appreciate everything you've done for me, but there is no need to lend a helping hand my way, Your Majesty."
"Hmm, as a reward for your bravery to bypass my bluff…" Emperor Fadong hummed to himself, pretending to debate his next response.
Li Xueyue tried to not let out an aggravated sigh. She reminded herself this was just an elderly man who was bored of his mind, so he had to bully the youth as a source of entertainment. Even after all that she said, he still wanted to intervene in her life, as if he had any right to do so in the first place.
"I understand your reluctance to marry. After all, you'll be tied down to one man for the rest of your life, which to you, I'm sure, is very boring," Emperor Fadong purposely said, jabbing at the fact that she had more than one suitor vying for her attention.
Li Chenyang scowled at his uncle's words. Was the Emperor purposely trying to make a fool out of her?
Precarious provocations like that could ruin her reputation. People would think she's a selfish and loose woman who liked to fool around when in reality, she was the opposite of that. She didn't want to draw any unwanted attention towards her, but life always liked to have a mind of its own.
"Don't you find it annoying to have so many men bothering you for your hand in marriage? If I was the Duke, I would surely be irritated. I'd have better things to do than shooing people off my property," the Emperor mused. "Have you ever considered your unwed status might be a burden to everyone around you? Especially your family?"
Li Xueyue could tell what his plans were. The Emperor wanted to guilt-trip her into marrying someone he favored. Why was he so obsessed with her? Didn't he have better things to do? For example, ruling over a whole country?!
She wouldn't let this small taunt get to her. She cared about her family but knew they also cared about her. They wouldn't want to force her into a marriage just because the Duke was tired of fending off suitors.
Li Chenyang decided to put a stop to all of this foolishness. "Our parents have never complained about this. In fact, we prefer her to never marry if that makes her happy. Heading into a loveless marriage for the sake of public image is never a good idea." He cast a glance towards the Empress, purposely hinting about her.
"I'm truly grateful for your concern over my younger sister, Your Majesty. However, there's no need for it. And if I may be ever so bold…" he trailed off, waiting for the Emperor's permission.
"Go on," the Emperor urged, eager to hear what Li Chenyang, one of his favorite nephews had to say.
"Li Xueyue is doing better on her own. She doesn't need outside influences to meddle with her personal matters."
When disapproval flashed across the Emperor's face, Li Chenyang added on, "We understand your concern for her. She's unwed, with more potential than you can imagine. You're worried about her falling into the wrong hands, and that's a perfectly reasonable fear.
"As her brother," he placed a hand upon his chest, "You can rest assured, something like that will never happen."
"And how can I trust you?"
Li Chenyang slyly smiled, concealing his frosty eyes. "Because history shouldn't repeat itself."
Confusion clouded the Emperor's face, his brows coming together to form even more lines on his wrinkled forehead. Finally, the words registered in his brain—Li Xueyue should not suffer the same pitiful fate as Li Minghua.
The Emperor was prepared to scorn his nephew with fiery wrath like no other but realized this was exactly the type of behavior that he shouldn't show in front of his ministers.
"Isn't that right, Your Majesty?" Li Chenyang asked.
Emperor Fadong wanted to refute Li Chenyang to hell and back but couldn't. For the sake of his heartbroken sister, he couldn't. For the sake of his niece, he couldn't. This was akin to a checkmate for him. His pawns had outplayed him.
"I suppose you're right,��� he reluctantly said, heaving an exhausted sigh. "Now, please excuse yourself out. There is another audience scheduled after yours."
Li Chenyang nodded in satisfaction, upholding his crafty smile. Like his father, he was a sheep in wolf disguise. "Very well, Your Majesty. I will escort my sister out and return to my post."
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