Li Wenmin was stunned to silence. He could practically feel the disappointment oozing off of Xueyue whose eyes were growing large with disbelief.
'Did he depart for Hanjian? Had he truly left me here? Without any last goodbyes?' Li Xueyue pressed her lips together, scolding herself for asking such foolish questions.
Li Xueyue was the one who declared it was fine for him to leave her—that she'd be fine on her own. She was the one who pushed him away for good. What gave her the right to think like this?
Her insecurities had harmed the man she liked. She had trampled over his heart and ruined her own in exchange. There was nothing she could do to turn back the time.
Even so, Li Xueyue had hoped he had stayed one more day so that she could explain herself. She wanted to tell him that if only he could wait for her for just a little bit longer, then perhaps she would depart for Hanjian, just not together with him. But soon. Soon, she would be there.
All of that seemed like a false reality now. The future she had dreamed of was beginning to crumble before her eyes and she was to blame for it. She could find no fault in anyone but herself.
"Did the Commander tell you where he was going?" Li Wenmin asked, deciding it was better to get to the bottom of this. Maybe Yu Zhen didn't leave for Hanjian, maybe he was just taking a tour of the country? Though he doubted it…
"Well, I didn't engage in any conversation with the Commander," Duke Li Taojun explained. "I simply heard from the servants that he had gathered his men and left the Palace."
"Are there any of his people remaining in the Palace?"
"I would assume none were left, but there could be a possibility that a few are lingering behind to finish packing."
Li Xueyue wished he didn't word it as if Yu Zhen would never return, but she chided herself again. Of course, he wouldn't return. His job in Wuyi was done. He had safely delivered the candidates and enforced the treaty between Wuyi and Hanjian. Why else would he stay in Wuyi for?
Li Xueyue realized Yu Zhen didn't even explain why he left in such a hurry the girst time they argued. He had hopped into his carriage as if his life depended on it. What happened?
"Besides, Wenmin, why would you seek out Yu Zhen for?" Duke Li Taojun asked whilst shifting his gaze back to the maidservant near him. Those eyes of hers, gentle and clear, he felt like he had seen them before.
"I just wanted to get to know him better," Li Wenmin lied with a smile. "Well, since he's gone, I suppose I will head back. You best head to the Second Prince's residence."
"Hmm, it would be the wise thing to do, isn't it? I wouldn't want to keep them waiting," Duke Li Taojun mused. He had a sly expression on his face that neither of the Li siblings could figure out why. If only Li Wenmin was intelligent enough to see past the exterior and realize the hint that was dropped.
"The Second Prince has been so impatient these days." Duke Li Taojun sighed. "And he's been requesting strange ointments from his doctors. I'm beginning to wonder who they're for. Obviously, he would not put strains on himself to get a cut or so. So strange, don't you think, General?"
"Gossiping about the Crown will result in a beheading," Li Wenmin warned whilst maintaining his smile.
There was stillness in the air before Duke Li Taojun broke out in a loud laughter that sounded empty to the ears. It was carried off by the rushing wind, swirling around the Palace, mocking the siblings.
"If my head rolls for such a comment, then it is not my fault but yours. Who else would hear this conversation except for you and your servants?" Duke Li Taojun chuckled, wiping away an imaginary tear. "Your jokes are getting better with each passing day, General."
"Keep my name and title out of your mouth. It repulses me." Li Wenmin slightly frowned and continued, "Especially when you use that same mouth to threaten Grandfather."
"Pft, that wilting old man? You still consider him your Grandfather? Fool! He didn't remember you or your brother before he passed! Not even your father crossed his mind. But do you know who did?" Duke Li Taojun cackled, throwing his head back.
Li Wenmin narrowed his gaze. He didn't want to continue with this conversation anymore. It was clear his uncle didn't know the meaning of respect. "Don't get so riled up simply because Grandfather disowned you."
"At the least, I was mentioned in his will. You received nothing from him."
"It was because I needed nothing." Li Wenmin shook his head with a slight smile. "Whereas you…" he trailed off, eyeing his uncle from head-to-toe. "You need all the help you can get."
"Oh, are you insulting the military now?" Li Wenmin haughtily said. "An insult to me is a direct insult to my squadron. Can you handle that?" he gestured to the guards that accompanied him.
The guards were already near fighting stances, their hands hovering over their swords.
Duke Li Taojun raised a brow, a vein on his forehead popped from restraining his anger. If only he had not retired his military influence years ago. He had abandoned nearly everything upon hearing the news that he fathered a daughter. A daughter who was meant to die in her household if he did not rescue her. And he did come. He had intended to whisk her into a life of grandeur and luxury.
All of that was just wishful thinking now. The mother of the child had made it very clear his daughter didn't want to see him. The mother of the child wanted nothing to do with him even though she was the one who forced herself upon him.
"You've learned to talk like an adult now. I'm sure your father is very proud of you, even if you had a late development. That's alright, you only need your hands anyway. That's the only useful part of you," Duke Li Taojun wryly said before glancing up at the sky.
"I wasted too much time conversing with you, boy." Duke Li Taojun sighed, shaking his head. "I'm too generous nowadays to be conversing with nobodies when I usually mentor royal children."
"I'm glad you know your lowly position." Li Wenmin chuckled and said, "Nothing but a dog riding on the coats of the royal family. How shameful, but I guess that's what you expect from being their watchdog."
"Now now, boy, you've gotten too ahead of yourself. What happened, child? You used to cling onto my leg, begging me to teach you all that I know."
Li Wenmin's face darkened. He didn't expect the direct jab. Everyone knew it wasn't just him who requested to be trained. Li Minghua also pestered him at the same time.
"Now that you've mastered techniques on your own, do you truly think of yourself as the Master? You're still a pupil who's only famous because of his family name."
"Do you lack so much self-esteem that you have to insult a 'pupil' who has achieved far more things than you ever had?" Li Wenmin sighed, shaking his head in disapproval.
Duke Li Taojun took a threatening step forward. "You and I both know exactly why I abandoned my position in the military. Your father had a hand in it. Do not tempt me to reveal all of his darkest secrets—like holding my own daughter over my head!"
Li Xueyue flinched. She didn't expect to hear the word 'daughter' to ever leave his mouth. Suddenly, her eyes grew large. Wait a minute. Did this mean he knew all along?!
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