Lu Tianbi silently observed her Commander while Hu Dengxiao continued to anxiously chew his nails. "What shall we do, Commander?"
Yu Zhen couldn't tear his eyes from Li Xueyue who had left the pavilion and was curiously smelling the flowers. When she liked a scent, her eyes would become a bit larger, her head nodding in approval. When she disliked a flower, her entire face would scrunch up, starting from her nose.
"I'll respond to him by today," Yu Zhen remarked. He finally shifted his attention to his comrades.
Lu Tianbi nodded in approval. "Are we going to return to Hanjian?"
"Not yet. We have the candidate situation to worry about," Yu Zhen said. All three of them knew he didn't give a damn about the treaty. He didn't care about the candidates in the first place. He only cared about one woman.
Hu Dengxiao finally stopped nibbling on his nails. He didn't realize he was doing it until Lu Tianbi slapped his hands, forcing them to stay by his side. She disliked this habit of his, but he couldn't help it.
"In regards to Princess Yu Xiyan, we spoke to her the other day," Hu Dengxiao began. "She despised Wen Jinkai and was terrified of him, so accepting the new proposal wasn't a big deal, but the biggest problem is…" he trailed off.
Lu Tianbi let out an aggravated sigh at how messy the situation has become. "The Princess in Hechen who ran away couldn't be found anywhere, nor her servants. If she was alone, we'd think she's dead, but seeing as she took servants with her, it's a different story."
"I'm not sure if the Emperor has heard of this." Hu Dengxiao frowned a bit.
"He won't care if he did." Yu Zhen stood up straighter when he saw Li Xueyue wandering off.
Lu Tianbi exchanged a glance with Hu Dengxiao. "Then do you suggest we turn a blind eye to this?" she asked.
"For now, we monitor the situation," Yu Zhen curtly said, momentarily distracted by the disappearance of Li Xueyue. Where did she go?
Lu Tianbi thoughtfully nodded at his words. "Are we going to let the candidate go?"
"If she makes it to Hanjian alive, the Emperor will deal with her," Yu Zhen responded, straightening his clothes. He regretted not telling Li Xueyue to stay put.
Hu Dengxiao shuffled his feet, noticing Yu Zhen's distraction. Their Commander was rarely like this. "Alright, we'll let nature take its course," he said.
Yu Zhen nodded and left. Lu Tianbi and Hu Dengxiao watched his disappearing form, wondering where he was headed to. They thought he'd leave this garden, but they found him heading deeper into it.
Hu Dengxiao was the first to speak up after the departure of their Commander. "He's smitten by her," he pointed out.
"Well, it's not a surprise is it? She's easy on the eyes." Lu Tianbi shrugged.
"Her appearance is subpar compared to most girls, she's different in that sense." Hu Dengxiao squeezed his chin, contemplating what it was about Li Xueyue that drew their Commander's attention.
"I don't think she's necessarily 'different from the rest.' Our Commander isn't the type to like someone just because they're not like other girls." Lu Tianbi turned to Hu Dengxiao.
"True…" Hu Dengxiao trailed off in agreement.
"It's going to be difficult for her if she decides to fall in love with our Commander." Lu Tianbi wistfully sighed.
"Yeah." Hu Dengxiao slightly frowned. "She'll have to leave her family behind. The journey back and forth to visit them would be strenuous."
He turned to Lu Tianbi, attempting to crack a joke. "Unless, you know, something dire happens and she has to flee Wuyi."
Lu Tianbi rolled her eyes at his boring joke. "She's a third-rank Princess sheltered by a Prime Minister and Duchess. One of her brothers is a Minister and the other is a General. Do you seriously think she'd flee her own country?"
"True true," Hu Dengxiao effortlessly agreed. "Well, I suppose only time can tell how their relationship will develop. So far, the ocean tides are calm and the ship is sailing smoothly."
"Except for the occasional disturbances, like that crazy Commander of Wuyi who wouldn't leave her alone." Lu Tianbi sighed. She pitied the poor girl stuck in the crossroad of a complicated love triangle.
"The tension is high between our Prince and that Commander. If we didn't intervene that night, do you think a fight would have broken out?" Hu Dengxiao asked.
"I hope not. A fight between two Commanders is never a pleasant thing to witness. They won't stop until they tear each other apart. I just know it." Lu Tianbi scowled, crossing her arms at the unpleasant image of a bloody fight.
"I feel like they would have some restraints though. They understand how valuable they are to their country," Hu Dengxiao said.
"Well, let's hope they keep that in mind the next time they decide to have a conversation," Lu Tianbi muttered, "Or else we might have another war on our hands." She shuddered at the thought of that. Neither country would let it slide if a brawl was to break out between their top fighters.
- - - - -
Yu Zhen struggled to find Li Xueyue. He had headed in the direction that he saw her wander off to, but when he arrived, she was nowhere to be found. This garden was larger than anticipated and the deeper he went, the denser the trees and flower bushes got. It was a miracle that this place was thriving in such a constrained place like the Imperial Palace.
Finally, he spotted something familiar. Her lavender hanfu and accessories had made her blend in with the light-colored flowers. He didn't realize her hairpin had flowy strings of lilac until she tilted her head and it moved with her.
Another accessory caught the light, a pure white hairpin crafted from jade, and the color of swirling clouds on a glorious morning.
"I know you're there."
Yu Zhen tensed at her words, quiet and observant. She slowly turned around, revealing the thing that had caught her attention all this time.
"A black butterfly?" he questioned and raised a brow when he saw the flutter of the insect, its wings dark and demonic.
"I've never seen one before," Li Xueyue said, raising her head a bit so that she wouldn't unwittingly blow any air onto the butterfly resting on a curled finger and frightened it away.
"They're bad omens. You should let it go." Yu Zhen scowled, stepping closer to her.
"But they're beautiful," Li Xueyue sullenly said, taking steps back while he continued advancing towards her.
"It's a symbol for misfortune and foreshadows death. Get rid of it." Yu Zhen huffed, coming closer to her while she continued walking backward until eventually, she tripped.
Her eyes widened as she reached out to grab the air, only to realize her stupid mistake. Yu Zhen rushed to grab her before she fell, only to grab her hand at the last second. Eventually, they tumbled onto a flower bush that collapsed downwards, forcing their bodies even closer.
Li Xueyue held her breath, unable to comprehend their proximity. She could feel the tickle of the flower petals against her face, but the only thing she could focus on was him.
Yu Zhen had toppled on top of her, but was careful to not harm her, his hands caging on either side of her, his weight ruining the plants under his palm. Despite being surrounded by all sorts of flowers, the only thing he could concentrate on was her scent—sweet and beckoning.
Her guard was lowered and her parted lips only stimulated him further.
He was irresistibly close to her now, his scent, a blend of pinecones and the forest, shrouded her. She stared up at him, a light blush traveling from her neck up. He was intensely staring at her, his eyes set ablaze, his restrain reaching its limits.
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