Two days came and went without anything major happening, except the suffocating tension between the Duke and Duchess. Every meal was awkward and there was always one of them missing. If Duchess Wang Qixing was present, Duke Li Shenyang wasn't.
Sighing to herself, Li Xueyue sat in her room in utter boredom, lazily flipping the pages of a book. She didn't know why, but there was a surplus of geography books in the library. She had practically memorized the layout of this continent and knew it like the back of her hand.
"How boring…" she mumbled, her eyes glazing over the paths leading out of the Capital. By now, she knew the fastest route to Hechen, Hanjian, and every other city.
When a quiet knock sounded through her room, she straightened up, eager to see who it was. "Come in!" she happily called out, turning to the door.
Li Chenyang strolled in, surprising her. It was early in the afternoon and he was rarely home during this time, especially on a workday.
"Oh, Chen-ge, you're home!" Li Xueyue grinned, standing up to greet him.
The corners of his lips curled up a bit, revealing a small smile. "I've come with great news."
"Really?" she asked, her eyes growing large, eager to find out what he was going to say.
"Well, there's also bad news. Which one do you want to hear first?"
Li Xueyue shrugged. "It's better to tackle the difficult part first. Besides, the good news afterwards might cheer me up. I don't want to be happy and then depressed if the bad news is delivered last."
Li Chenyang nodded in understanding. "You have a point there," he said, closing the door behind him.
"So what's the bad news?"
"Well, the first plan is going to be more pricier than we thought."
"Oh." Li Xueyue blinked.
"The good news is that the pirates have agreed to work with us for a price."
"That doesn't make sense." Li Xueyue frowned. "They're pirates. Isn't it good enough that we reveal the route of trading ships that they're going to hijack anyway?"
"Well, yes, but the Bai Family's ships are more guarded than we thought," Li Chenyang responded. "The pirates claimed the Bai Family have hired guards, thus, they'll need the money to hire more crewmates."
"I see. Were our identities revealed? As in, do the pirates know you're the one hiring them?" she asked.
Li Chenyang shook his head. "No, they didn't know it was me. All the pirates know is that a servant from an aristocratic family is hiring them. Secrecy in identities are common."
"How do these pirates know we're not setting them up to be caught?"
"Well, we had to pay them upfront with half the promised money. They'll get the rest of it when they've successfully looted everything, or ruined the goods."
Li Xueyue hummed in response, pondering over his words. "In that case, how expensive are they?"
"A handful of gold coins. You don't have to worry about that," Li Chenyang responded, taking a seat near the usual table where she enjoyed her snacks.
"When will the raid begin?"
"Tonight they set sail. It should take less than a week," he said.
Li Xueyue raised her brows. "That's pretty quick."
"Not quick enough. We should commence step two very soon. The question is, how do we contact the Viscount's dissatisfied servants all the way from the Capital?" Li Chenyang sighed, leaning the side of his head on a propped up arm. He watched her fiddle with the pages of her book whilst she thought of a response.
"That's a good question…" she trailed off, curling her finger and pressing it against her chin. "Oh wait, please tell the pirates to not hurt the Bai family workers��"
"I've already instructed the pirates to bring the workers back alive."
"In that case, we can just get in touch with the workers they bring back alive and employ them as our messengers?"
Li Chenyang hummed, tilting his head as he pondered over everything. "Theoretically, it's a good plan, but how can we be sure they're not going to snitch on us? It's suspicious to capture them and then randomly question their working conditions."
"Well, pirates usually take other sailors as captives to be sold as slaves. We can pretend to save these workers, pretend to be officers in charge of uhm…" she paused, rattling her head for some answers.
"Oh, you mean servant rights officers?"
"There's no such thing as that." Li Chenyang chuckled, shaking his head. "No one cares about their servants."
"Well, we treat our servants pretty well don't we?"
"We do." Li Chenyang nodded in satisfaction. "They have above average wages, comfortable living situations, and are fed on the job."
"Well, why don't we save these men and employ them?"
"How will that convince the Bai workers in Hechen to soil the products?"
Li Xueyue slightly frowned. He had a point. She just didn't know how to tie the strings together.
"How about this?" Li Chenyang proposed, "We send our Li Family's most trusted servants straight to the Hechen trading harbors, identify where the Bai Family stores their imported and exported goods, then we use our own servants to deal with it?"
"Oh, that's a great idea." Li Xueyue blinked. "Then, what shall happen to the captured men?"
"Why do we have to care about them?"
"Because it's the ethical thing to do," she deadpanned in disbelief, staring at Li Chenyang as if he had grown three heads.
"You're cute for caring about ethics, but that's not how business works." Li Chenyang laughed, shaking his head when he saw how serious she was.
"Chen-ge, we can't harm innocent lives—"
"Too late for that," Li Chenyang muttered, standing up. "We'll let the pirates deal with these men—"
"No," Li Xueyue firmly said, standing up as well. "These men have families to take care of, children to feed and—"
"These men work for our enemies. You can't be a saint to everyone you meet." Li Chenyang scowled, crossing his arms.
"Maybe let them return to the Bai Family."
"These servants will be severely punished whether it's a beating or torture, and then they'll be fired. Even worse, killed for losing the expensive goods they're exporting or importing. You really think any wealthy family will care about the lives of a mere servant?"
She flinched as if she was slapped by his words. Her brows drew together in worry, her eyes cast onto the ground. Is it so bad to want to save lives?
Li Chenyang heaved a loud sigh. "Xueyue, you're a great girl with a decent heart, but you use it at the wrong times."
"When is it the right time to have a good heart?" Li Xueyue muttered, lifting her head to stare directly into his eyes. She refused to believe he didn't have an ounce of moral inside of him to save these servants.
"In the aristocratic society?"
His scowl deepened. "Never."
"Your kindness is a weakness. People will trample upon you if they discover your heart of gold. Only be nice to others when there is a benefit," he reprimanded, stepping closer to her.
"I never said to be kind to everyone, I only wanted to save these workers. It's not like they asked to be raided."
Li Chenyang shook his head. "We will not save them. We will pretend they do not exist."
Li Xueyue slightly frowned. "I'm sure we can find some use for them—"
She froze, her eyes widening in disbelief. He had never commanded her like this.
"This discussion is over." He sighed, heading towards the door, but she refused to let him leave until this problem was settled with.
Li Xueyue grabbed onto his sleeve, forcing him to look at her. "We're saving these men," she gritted through her teeth.
"It wasn't a suggestion," she snapped. "They will be useful in the future."
"You expect us to waste money and house them? What use would we have for them—"
"There will be uses," she firmly said, leaving no room for an argument.
"Your kindness is a weakness!" he exclaimed, harshly grabbing her hands, forcing her to listen. "Do you really think saving them makes you a good person? In the end, you're still going to use them."
Li Xueyue struggled to keep calm at his provocative words. He was furious, she could see it in the ticks of his jaw, the flare of his eyes, swirling with annoyance. He was far from happy.
"It's better than letting them rot at the hands of pirates," she calmly said, trying her hardest to not wince at his tight grip on her hands. It felt like he was going to crush her fingers, but she was simply too stubborn to voice out her pain.
"Xueyue!" He groaned. "You have to be reasonable."
"You're not!" Li Chenyang growled. "We're not going to give a damn about these men and that's final."
"What if they have families to feed?"
"What if their children are waiting for them to come home? What if he's the sole provider for his parents and his wife's side of the family? What if—"
"Xueyue," Li Chenyang gently muttered, grabbing her shoulders, shaking her.
She glanced up at him, hopeful of what he was going to say.
"I. Don't. Care. About. Them," he deadpanned.
Li Xueyue opened her mouth to respond, but he dropped his hands and stormed out of her room.
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