The next morning, Li Chenyang was the one who notified Li Xueyue that breakfast was ready. Normally, it was the servant's job to do so, just like how Jinxia would be the one notifying the Duke and Duchess, but weirdly enough, it had become a routine for one of the twins to notify her.
Usually, Li Wenmin was the one to inform Li Xueyue but he was too easily distracted to be handled with the task of a messenger.
Li Chenyang knocked on the door twice.
A faint, "Come in" could be heard.
He pushed the door open and stepped inside.
Li Xueyue was already dressed in an eye-catching blue hanfu the color of the morning sky painted with leisure clouds. She was sitting by the vanity whilst handmaidens styled her hair.
"Chen-ge!" Li Xueyue called out, "It's so strange to see you bright and early. Wen-ge is often the one who greets me."
"Well, he sucks at being a messenger, so you'll see me a lot more from now on," he said. His brows became knitted with worry when he saw her dark circles and eye bags. It was even more prominent than usual.
"Did you have a nightmare?" Li Chenyang worriedly asked, walking closer to her.
Li Xueyue slowly nodded as the handmaiden lightly powdered her face, hoping to minimize the panda rims. She often instructed them to put on as minimal powder as possible. She didn't like how easily it came off, and if too much was caked onto her face, it felt too stiff.
Li Chenyang heaved a disappointed sigh. "How about we bring in a doctor to properly diagnose you and prescribe you with herbal tonics or tea that will help you sleep better?"
Li Xueyue shook her head. "I don't want to use herbal tonics unless absolutely necessary. What if my body grows resistant to it?"
"Look at your dark circles." He scowled. "I think it has reached a stage where it's necessary for you to be prescribed with some tonics."
"I-it's just nightmares and—"
"You're also struggling to sleep. These are not good symptoms, Xueyue. How much do you even sleep at night?"
"I'm not sure…" she trailed off, pressing her lips on a pearl pink paper that stained her lips with a soft tint.
Li Chenyang rested his hands on his hips, staring at her like an overbearing mother hen. "You obviously need more sleep. It's not good for such a young woman like you to lack sleep. Your body regenerates at night and if you don't give it time to do so, how will you function?"
Li Xueyue sank down in her chair. He was right, as usual. "Let's compromise then. Instead of the bitter herbal tonics, I'll drink soothing chamomile or lavender tea before bed. Maybe it'll help?"
"Hopefully it helps. If after a week, you're still struggling to sleep, it might be time to call in a physician to diagnose what might be wrong."
"But I already know what's wrong." Li Xueyue sighed. "It's nightmares. I-I think my brain is too scared to sleep because it just knows I will see them."
Li Chenyang's irritated features softened. "We'll make them pay for this."
"Yes, we will."
Li Chenyang wished he could do more than nag about her sleeping habits. He was worried that she was right. At some point, the herbal tonics might not work for her anymore. What then? Who could comfort her back to sleep? Who could help ease her worries? Who would chase away her nightmares?
He let out a quiet sigh. Of course, it would never be her husband. Men in Wuyi often slept in different rooms from their wives, especially if there is a harem.
Li Chenyang appreciated his father's doting nature towards his mother. His adoring treatment towards the Duchess had set an example to the twins on how to treat their wives.
"You look dejected again, Chen-ge. What's wrong?"
Li Chenyang shook his head. "Nothing that you should care about."
He stepped back, allowing her to stand up. The handmaiden had finally finished dolling her up. He knew they secretly enjoyed playing dress-up with her, especially the Duchess who was fond of buying new things for Xueyue to try out.
"Are you sure?" Li Xueyue asked, fearful that he might feel glum. She wanted to ease his worries in any way that she could.
"Yes." Li Chenyang smiled a bit. "Let's head to breakfast now, shall we?"
Li Xueyue nodded her head. She walked out of her room with him, side by side, their footsteps falling in sync.
"By the way, I told Father the plan yesterday. He brought up an interesting point that we forgot to discuss," Li Chenyang piqued.
"Oh, which point?"
"Once the business is acquired by 'foreign traders,' which is basically someone pretending to be us, how will we maintain the business? Also, how are we going to find trustworthy people to be sent out as delegates?"
Li Xueyue blinked. "Oh, for management of the business, maybe I can do it?"
"A little lady like you all alone in Hechen? Absolutely not." Li Chenyang scowled, crossing his arms. "We will have to send someone in your stead."
"But who?" Li Xueyue asked.
Li Chenyang hummed, placing a finger on his chin. "I might know a person or two. You've never met him before, but he's a close friend of the Li Family."
"Oh." Li Xueyue was disappointed that she couldn't stay in Hechen and handle the business but knew she could always do it in the comfort of her own home. The only problem was, they needed to assign someone to carry out her instructions.
"It's one of Duke Wen Xuan's sons." Li Chenyang mused, "I think you've heard of him before? He's the Duke's third son who's the same age as you."
Li Xueyue tilted her head. She vaguely remembered the conversation that occurred two years ago in Duke Li Shenyang's private study in his manor at Hechen. She recalled Duke Wen Xuan paying their home a visit after an injured Wen Jinkai was discovered.
"What about him?"
"His name is Wen Qihong and he's always eager to prove himself a capable heir to Duke Wen," Li Chenyang informed her. "He's actually one out of five of the most eligible bachelors of the country, I'm surprised you haven't heard of him."
"Well, who are the other bachelors?" Li Xueyue tilted her head. "I don't know much about the current trends and gossip of young ladies."
"Gosh, you sound so old." Li Chenyang snorted, rolling his eyes. "Young ladies? You're one of them, you know."
"Yes, but no one interacts with me enough for me to be informed on the latest news," Li Xueyue pointed out, resisting the urge to tease him back.
"Well, as you probably guessed by now, Wen Jinkai is also one of them, including me and Wenmin."
"Who's the fifth one?"
"Why do you want to know?" Li Chenyang teased, raising a questioning brow. "Looking to collect more suitors?"
Li Xueyue rolled her eyes. "What do I look like? Male lead magnet?"
Li Chenyang loudly laughed. "At this rate, you might as well be."
Li Xueyue groaned. "Don't remind me."
Li Chenyang's teasing laughter settled into a small chuckle. "Maybe if you stop being so nice to everyone, they wouldn't like you so much."
"I don't think it's a matter of me being kind." Li Xueyue pressed her lips together. "So, this Wen Qihong, is he really trustworthy?"
Li Chenyang instantly nodded. "Duke Wen has a house near the Capital and one in Hechen. He's great friends with our father, and he mainly lived in Hechen when we were growing up. I was closer to Wen Jinkai, but Li Wenmin was always close to Wen Qihong."
"Isn't Wen Qihong younger than Wenmin then? Since we're both eighteen, and you're twenty."
"Yes, he's younger, which is why he's filled with aspirations to succeed. He's constantly overshadowed by his second brother who's favored to be the heir, and by his first brother, Jinkai, who's an accomplished Commander. I'm sure you understand Qihong's burden to outshine his brothers and step out of their shadows."
Li Xueyue nodded.
"Duke Wen Xuan always prefers outstanding children. His attention is all on his second son now and Qihong's mother is always too busy with attending soirees and private gatherings held by other aristocrats—" Li Chenyang paused, tilting his head. "Actually, instead of hearing from me, you should learn about him yourself."
Li Xueyue stopped walking as well. She peered up at him, perplexed by his words. "What do you mean?"
"Duke Wen Xuan is visiting the Capital soon, most likely to reprimand Wen Jinkai. I caught wind that the entire family might come," he said.
"That's strange, I always thought Duke Wen Xuan despised Wen Jinkai…?"
Li Chenyang let out a quiet sigh. "Duke Wen Xuan dislikes Wen Jinkai, but that doesn't stop him from trying to take advantage of his own son."
Li Xueyue suddenly pitied Wen Jinkai. They came from the same background starved of parental love.
"Well, anyway, you'll meet Wen Qihong soon. I'll bring you to the Palace where Duke Wen Xuan will most likely be," Li Chenyang informed her, giving her head a pat.
"Now, let's enjoy breakfast, shall we?" he added on.
Li Xueyue instantly smiled in agreement, grabbing him by the wrist and swiftly tugging him in the direction of the dining room.
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