164 Stop Bullying His Soldiers
When Li Xueyue walked out of the Li Manor adorned with the simplest jewelry from her trove, accompanied by a smug Li Wenmin, the Duchess could do nothing but sigh at her petty children.
"Don't tell me you're planning to join us, Wenmin?" Duchess Wang Qixing chuckled, her voice friendly and welcoming, but her dagger eyes suggested otherwise while she effortlessly slipped into the carriage.
"As if I could stomach food with him around." Li Wenmin wrinkled his nose in disgust. "But no, unfortunately, I will be stuck with training soldiers. Even though we're in the process of finalizing a peace treaty with Hanjian, it's still not set in stone. We always have to be prepared for a war."
Li Xueyue swallowed. The thought of war was daunting and horrifying. Would Li Wenmin have to join the battle? Her eyes flickered to the badge pinned on his chest, the glistening metal branding him a General.
Li Wenmin would be one of the men leading the fight, his head targeted by every soldier behind the enemy lines. Just the thought of his head flying off his body was enough for her hands to tremble, her eyes shaking with fear.
No. A war must never break out.
"Yes, we always have to prepare for war," Duchess Wang Qixing softly repeated, her eyes glazed over as she stared into the distance. Except, the war she would start would take place in her country of Wuyi. She had read the diary last night.
Granted, it was stolen from her husband's desk, but she did not care. Women were the scariest when they exercised control over their emotions and not let it get the best of them. She was the epitome of calm, unlike her husband who threw a fit after reading the diary.
After going through the entries, she quietly returned the diary to where she found it and retreated to her room with an expression that none of her servants had ever seen on her face before.
"But don't worry, Mom!" Li Wenmin brightly grinned up at her, the sunlight basking his large form. He proudly slapped his chest, his eyes twinkling with determination. "Even if a war breaks out, I'll always protect our family!"
"Even if it means raising a sword against the royal family?" Duchess Wang Qixing softly asked, her voice barely above a whisper. No one else heard her, except the people closest to her which were her children.
Li Wenmin's cheerful smile faltered. "What?"
Did he hear his mother clearly? His bewildered eyes searched her features, his smile turning into a straight line. He did. The murderous glint in her eyes was not hard to miss. Her gentle smile suddenly appeared sickeningly sweet, bloodthirsty even.
"Mother?" he muttered, his voice quivering with uncertainty. Was she alright?
"Think about my words carefully, my dear child," she whispered, bending down from the carriage to place a chaste hand upon the side of his face, her eyes filled with fondness for her son.
Li Wenmin stood there dumbfounded as if he was rooted to the ground. "I don't understand…"
"Have you read the diary?"
"I have—" Li Women's eyes widened in shock, his head snapping up. "Y-you read it—b-but how? I-I don't…" he trailed off, the answer dawned on him before he could finish asking his question.
Li Xueyue sat quietly in a corner of the carriage, her head turned away from them. Clenching her fingers together, she forced herself to remain calm as if she hadn't just heard the promise of treason against the Crown.
"Xiao Yue, you told Mother…" Li Wenmin breathed out, his attention shifting from his quiet sister to the Duchess.
He searched the face of his mother, the woman who single-handedly raised him without a nanny. Her face, beautiful as he had always remembered, was demure, her eyes shining with adoration for her children. His mother loved him unconditionally and he could see the fear that flashed in her eyes—fear of losing him for making such a sinful confession.
She gave his face a small squeeze, warmth flooded her expression when she saw how confused her son was. He had the expression of a lost puppy.
"We shall return before you arrive home for dinner, do not worry," Duchess Wang Qixing calmly said, her voice light and airy as if she hadn't asked her son to betray the country he swore allegiance to.
When she retracted her hand, Li Wenmin instantly grabbed onto it. "Mother, I—"
"Silly boy, there is no need to be so formal around me," she mused.
With her long finger, she tapped his nose, the same way she did when he was a needy boy and a crybaby. As a kid, Li Wenmin always clung to his mother more than anyone else. The one person he could always rely on was the Duchess whose patient smile and understanding eyes soothed his troubled soul.
"Y-you love me right?" he suddenly asked, his eyes wide with uncertainty, his grip on her hand tightening. "Right?" he repeated in a soft whisper, stepping closer to the carriage.
Duchess Wang Qixing was taken aback. Had she not dotted on him enough? Letting out a quiet laugh, she gave his cheek a pat. "If I don't love my own children, who else would I love?"
"Even if I can't fulfill that request?"
"I'd love you regardless, my dear boy."
She attempted to retract her hand from his unbearable grip, but he wanted to hold on—fearful that she'd turn her back on him.
"You're behaving as if I'm leaving on a vacation and my boat has the highest possibility of sinking in the middle of the high seas." Duchess Wang Qixing chuckled. "Just think of my request as a simple joke."
Li Wenmin didn't respond, but he slowly released her hand. "I'm just worried, that's all."
"Worried that I'd be different when I return?"
"Why would I be?"
"Because I…" Li Wenmin trailed off, unable to complete his own sentence.
"Silly boy, have I not loved you enough as a child?" Duchess Wang Qixing shook her head. "Regardless of what you decide to do, you're still the son I put all my heart and efforts into raising."
"No matter what happens?"
"No matter," Duchess Wang Qixing firmly responded.
Duchess Wang Qixing offered him a final smile. "I'll see you in the afternoon for lunch? Or will you return only for dinner?"
"With the absence of the Commander, I might have to train his soldiers as well, so perhaps, dinner," Li Wenmin responded, grateful for the change in subject. His eyes lingered upon the unresponsive Xueyue.
"Commanders don't have days off?" Duchess Wang Qixing curiously asked.
"Well, they do, but Wen Jinkai is very dedicated to his duties. Even if he does take a day off, he always assigns someone to train his soldiers. Unfortunately for me, I was the first person that came to mind."
Li Xueyue frowned at the fact, turning to him. "Well, you tell him to stop bullying his soldiers."
"You should tell him that since you're going to waste your time to see him." Li Wenmin let out a small laugh. "Besides, I doubt he'd listen to me. He's two ranks above mine, so he's not obligated to take my advice."
"How stupid," Li Xueyue blurted out. "What if his soldiers have better strategies than him? Everyone's opinion matters."
Li Wenmin shook his head. "Enforcing the hierarchy is more important. You weren't exposed to the cruel reality of society, you wouldn't know such things, Xiao Yue."
Li Xueyue started at her hands. There it was. The subtle nagging to not be so kind.
"In this world, it's either you eat or be eaten. You have to remember that, Xiao Yue. You can be a sheep, but don't forget, you're surrounded by wolves, greedy to prey upon your kindness," Li Wenmin said.
Duchess Wang Qixing's face softened when she saw the regret on Xueyue's face. "You can be nice to others, sweetie. You'll just have to be more careful with whom your kindness is directed towards."
Li Xueyue nodded in response, her gaze shifted to Li Wenmin. She expected his expression to be stern, but it wasn't. His face was patient and filled with understanding that it'd take a while for her to change.
"I'll see you later, Wen-ge?"
Li Wenmin presented her with a wide toothy smile. "See you later, Xiao Yue." He turned to his mother, his smile faltering a bit. "And you as well, Mother—"
"Call me Mother one more time and I'll yank your ear. Mother sounds so formal," she groaned, "I am still in my early forties!"
Li Wenmin let out a quiet chuckle. "You appear so young, you can be mistaken as my sister."
"I know." Duchess Wang Qixing grinned. "Hurry home and don't snack too much at training," she said before closing the carriage door.
The carriage began driving down the road leading to the Capital. Duchess Wang Qixing poked her head out of the window to see Li Wenmin was still standing there, his eyes carefully watching the carriage in case anything were to happen.
When she caught his stare, she waved him goodbye, watching as he slowly lifted a hand and waved back. Soon, the carriage disappeared and Li Wenmin was forced to ponder over his Mother's words. Would he betray the Royal Family?