Once breakfast was concluded, Li Chenyang followed his father into the private study to discuss that morning's palace work. Only Duchess Wang Qixing, Li Wenmin, Li Xueyue, and Yu Zhen remained in the dining room.
When the meal was finished, Yu Zhen had moved his seat to sit beside Li Xueyue who did not mind his proximity.
Li Wenmin watched with a sour expression while Yu Zhen grabbed Xueyue's chin and wiped her mouth with an expensive handkerchief. He wondered if his Xiao Yue even realized that a handkerchief like that was only meant to show off one's status, and not used as a mouth wipe.
Li Xueyue gratefully smiled at Yu Zhen's gesture. When Yu Zhen leaned in to whisper something into her ear, her eyes lit up in response.
'Tch, it's probably some stupid promise or something. Don't believe his bull crap, Xiao Yue!' Li Wenmin shouted inside of his head, desperately wishing he could say it out loud. If only his mother wasn't in the same room.
Speaking of the Duchess, she was watching the couple with googly eyes like an excited matchmaker.
'Mom you should be keeping them at least six feet apart! What about our Xueyue's reputation?!' Li Wenmin groaned to himself, rolling his eyes when Duchess Wang Qixing clasped her hands together, nodding in approval as Yu Zhen playfully tapped Xueyue's nose.
'Great, just great! She's already planning the wedding. Let me guess, she's also thinking of what color would look the best on her first grandchildren. Tch!' Li Wenmin bitterly thought, hating how easygoing his mother was.
"Xueyue," Li Wenmin finally spoke up, "You haven't been practicing sword fighting and martial arts lately. I've decided to personally train you today."
"Oh, but don't you have an important tactical meeting today, Wenmin?" Duchess Wang Qixing spoke up, confused by his change of plans. Was there something that she didn't know?
"Uhhhh," Li Wenmin scratched the back of his head. "It doesn't start until later."
"Well, you won't have time to train Xueyue and then rush over to the meeting. You won't even have time to bathe and you won't be presentable for the meeting if you're covered in sweat," Duchess Wang Qixing firmly said. He was a General now. She would not tolerate his tardiness to his own job, just because he didn't want to leave his younger sister with a man.
"But, Mom," Li Wenmin exasperated, "Xueyue hasn't trained in a while! If we leave her be, then her skills will get rusty and everything will go to waste."
"I can train her," Yu Zhen answered.
Li Wenmin shot him a dirty glower. He did not expect his plan to backfire like this! Originally, he planned to use the training as an excuse to kick Yu Zhen out of the house. It wasn't supposed to make the darn Commander stay and spend more time with Xueyue.
"I wouldn't trouble you as such, Commander," Duchess Wang Qixing said, finally growing mindful that some things could not be pardoned. What if someone walked in on the couple while they were practicing in an intimate position? She had no doubt this sneaky Commander would have tricks up his sleeve.
"As for Xueyue, I will send a servant to notify her instructor that lessons will be starting later than usual. My son is right," she nodded, "Our Xueyue hasn't been getting lessons lately because she has been so busy."
"Busy with being bedridden?" Yu Zhen asked.
Li Xueyue kicked him under the table, knowing he pointed that out simply because he was just that petty. He responded by grabbing her upper-thigh, his lips curled into a sly smirk when she abruptly jumped. Her eyes snapped towards him, but his attention was focused on the Duchess.
Li Xueyue nervously glanced around and was grateful no one saw them. Her eyes darted towards his spread fingers on her thigh. She stared at the bulging small veins on his hand and wondered how much easier it would be to wield a sword with fingers as long as his.
"Yes, busy with being bedridden." Duchess Wang Qixing scowled, crossing her arms. What was he getting at by provoking her like this?"
"In that case, it's better for Xueyue to move around a bit and exercise her body," he said.
"Which is why her usual instructors will come."
"There is no need to call instructors when you have the master right here," Yu Zhen shamelessly said.
"Absolutely not." Duchess Wang Qixing shook her head. "You are not allowed to teach Xueyue a single thing, you'll ruin her form."
Li Wenmin didn't want to admit it, but for once, his mother was wrong. If there was someone more than qualified to teach Li Xueyue, it would be Yu Zhen, the famed Sword Beast of Hanjian.
Li Wenmin didn't forget the nickname Yu Zhen had earned on the battlefield as the Grim Reaper of War. A swing of his sword and heads effortlessly flew. His precision was immaculate and nothing was more perfect than his form. If he taught Xueyue, she would surely excel in swordsmanship.
"My lady," Yu Zhen mused, "I swear on my honor that Xueyue's form will improve with my teachings."
"No." Duchess Wang Qixing shook her head. "She is used to the instructors' technique. There is no need for outside influence like this."
"If she is used to their techniques, then it means they've taught all that they can," Yu Zhen pointed out.
"Well, she can practice with the instructor."
"I can teach her different forms employed in Hanjian. The more she knows, the better."
Li Wenmin's ears perked up, his attention immediately shifting to Yu Zhen. Did he hear him properly? The Great Commander of Hanjian was willing to share their military techniques?
Each country was always very tightlipped about how they trained their soldiers and many techniques were forbidden to be passed down. If a soldier spilled the secrets, they would instantly be sentenced to death and there would also be a seven-generation family massacre.
No one dared to share the secrets, not unless they were the instructors themselves. And even then, instructors wouldn't share.
To see Yu Zhen so willing to sacrifice his secrets, Li Wenmin was more than pleased. Perhaps he could steal these secrets from Xueyue and evaluate it before notifying his soldiers. It would be great if he could catch Hanjian's soldiers off-guard when their own techniques were used against them.
Li Wenmin forced a cheery smile on his face.
"Mother, why don't we let Xueyue learn from Yu Zhen? I hate to say it, but he's right. The more she knows, the better. Don't you think so, Xiao Yue?" he asked, nudging his younger sister to respond.
Li Xueyue suspiciously narrowed her eyes. Her overprotective Wen-ge was relenting this easily? He must be planning something. And judging from his large smile, he was definitely up to no good.
"She doesn't need to know more than she already does." Duchess Wang Qixing sighed. "It's not like our Xueyue will go off to war. She already has enough tricks up her sleeve."
"But Mother, knowledge is power."
"You're awfully persistent. If I hadn't known better, I'd think you were Yu Zhen's wingman." Duchess Wang Qixing scowled and probed, "What are you planning?"
Li Wenmin dramatically placed a hand on his chest, taken aback. He feigned offense. "I simply want my younger sister to know as many techniques possible to defend herself."
He wiped away an imaginary tear and sniffled. "My poor Xiao Yue, she's so skinny and tiny, I fear for her wellbeing!"
Duchess Wang Qixing scoffed, rolling her eyes. "You're not fooling anyone, my idiotic son."
"Oh, Xiao Yue, you pitiful thing! Why must you be born with a frail body and pretty face? Just imagine the men who will take advantage of you! Boo hoo…" Li Wenmin loudly sobbed, grabbing his younger sister.
"It's okay, Xiao Yue, you have an older brother on your side! I will make sure you learn everything you have to! It is only right that such a feeble young lady should be able to defend herself with as many techniques as possible."
Li Xueyue jumped when his spit flew and landed on her cheek. She angrily wiped it away.
He let out a tiny "Oopsie~" before going back to the performance of a lifetime. "My beloved sister, how pitiful it is you're deprived of learning! Do not worry, our mother may be cruel in that aspect to deny a Princess the privilege to protect herself and—mmph!"
Duchess Wang Qixing had stuffed a bun into his mouth, forcing him to shut up for the love of everything holy!
"Alright, alright, you crybaby son of mine," she snapped, "Xueyue will train under Yu Zhen, but only for today."
Li Wenmin gulped down the bun at an alarming speed. "But one day isn't enough to learn!"
"Don't talk back to me," Duchess Wang Qixing hissed, grabbing him by the ear.
Li Wenmin let out a howl of pain, his eyes quivering as he pouted. "Mother, Mother, please!"
"As a gift for your performance, I will present you with an hour-long lecture," Duchess Wang Qixing angrily bit out, tugging him upwards by the ear.
"Ow, ow! Now I won't be able to hear from that side!" he cried out, bouncing on his feet, hoping to relieve the pain, but she twisted it.
"That's what you get for publicly disagreeing with your mother," she huffed, dragging him towards the door. She paused and sharply turned around.
"And you!" she said, pointing towards Yu Zhen who instantly straightened up. "You better not assault my daughter again. I was once a maiden, I know exactly what you did to her."
Yu Zhen raised his brows. She spoke with so much determination, he felt like a son being scolded by his mother.
"Keep your hands off of Xueyue or else I will personally see to it that you receive proper punishment. Second Prince or not, I will still scold you," she hissed. "Is that clear?"
Yu Zhen wondered if a formal salute would make her happy. He resorted to a simple nod of his head.
"And Xueyue," Duchess Wang Qixing paused and turned to her daughter. Her eyes and voice softened as she said, "Darling, remember what I said. Okay?"
Li Xueyue rapidly nodded.
"How come she gets the kinder treatment?!" Li Wenmin complained, "That's so unfair and biased, Mom!"
"It's because she doesn't act up as much as you do, my tantrum-throwing son." Duchess Wang Qixing huffed. Finally, she dragged her son out of the dining room.
And then there were two.
Finally, Li Xueyue and Yu Zhen were alone, without anyone to disturb them.
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