Li Xueyue didn't know how long she sat on that bed, dazed and heartbroken by his rejection. The pain was too much to bear. It felt as if the entire world was against her, and she would never feel joy ever again. Her chest hurts, her eyes hurt, everything hurts.
The more time she spent there, the sadder she became. Climbing off the bed, she approached the tent's entrance. She observed the heavy cloth material of the entire tent that was supported by pillars of wood. It was incredibly sturdy and reminded her of the tents from the Spring Tournament, except, this one was much bigger.
Li Xueyue stepped out of the tent with the intention of going home. The grounds outside were bustling with noise. The sun had set and nightfall was quickly approaching. Soldiers were huddled around fires, some cooked, others conversed and laughed amongst themselves. It was festive and there was a hum of music in the air.
In the far corner, there was a group of men being disciplined. Judging by their familiar faces, she knew they were the soldiers who kidnapped her here. Half of them were doing drills of exercises, whereas the other was forced to train until they dropped.
"Princess Li," a voice called out from her side.
Li Xueyue turned. She was met with the familiar smile of Hu Dengxiao who resembled a big puppy, much like Wenmin.
"How may I help you?" he asked.
Li Xueyue realized they had garnered unwanted attention. A few soldiers were staring at her now. It must've been because of her messy appearance that she resembled a birds' nest. Or the fact that she had stepped out of their Commander's tent—an unfamiliar woman.
"I'm looking for Yu Zhen."
Hu Dengxiao's expression softened. "He's unavailable right now, Princess Li."
"He stole something from me," Li Xueyue deadpanned.
"The royal decrees?"
Li Xueyue blinked in surprise. "Yes, how did you know?"
"It was the reason why he immobilized his troops."
"I don't understand…?"
"You won't unless the Commander tells you what he did," Hu Dengxiao said.
"What did he do?"
Hu Dengxiao's smile dropped apologetically. "It's his personal business. You will have to ask him yourself, Princess Li."
"Which I can't do, because you said he's busy."
Hu Dengxiao slowly nodded. He didn't think she was this bold and confident. Despite his happy-go-lucky personality, not many women had the courage to speak out like her.
Hu Dengxiao wondered if she truly grew up in a horrible past. "You must be hungry, Princess Li. I'll bring you food. It may not be as fancy as the meal you enjoy at home, but it's tasty."
"Can you lend me a horse?" Li Xueyue asked.
"I want to go home."
"You can't!" Hu Dengxiao blurted out.
Li Xueyue jumped at his unexpected yell.
"I-I apologize, I didn't mean to raise my voice."
"Why can't I leave?" she asked. "Your men kidnapped me on my father's territory."
"I know," Hu Dengxiao cringed. "We didn't mean to be so rough. My men thought you were a trespasser. They didn't know you're the Commander's woman."
"I'm not his woman," she said.
"But where else would his pendant be?" Hu Dengxiao softly frowned. "I noticed it was missing. He couldn't have possibly lost it."
Li Xueyue wrung her fingers together. "Nevermind."
Hu Dengxiao scratched his head. "It was easy to capture them, you know."
"Nevermind," Hu Dengxiao mocked.
Li Xueyue narrowed her gaze. Scratch that, Hu Dengxiao did not remind her of Li Wenmin. This man was much more cunning.
Hu Dengxiao brightly smiled. "I will bring supper to you. Please head back inside the tent, Princess Li."
Li Xueyue had no other choice. "I don't want supper." She forced a polite nod and headed back into the tent, leaving Hu Dengxiao stunned.
Hu Dengxiao had expected her to throw a haughty tantrum. He thought she would make a fool out of herself, but she didn't. Except for her confident remarks, there wasn't anything to nitpick at.
Hu Dengxiao let out a sigh. "At least she's good at holding her emotions in." Hu Dengxiao carelessly shrugged. "Oh well, if she doesn't want to eat, then she won't get anything. It's not my fault if she starves."
"You'll be in trouble when the Commander discovers you starved his woman," Lu Tianbi spoke up, stepping out of the shadows.
"Gah!" Hu Dengxiao jumped. "Where did you come from?"
"I finished bathing by the river," Lu Tianbi said, quirking a brow at his horrified expression. "Are you that much of a scaredy-cat?"
"You shouldn't bathe when the men are awake," Hu Dengxiao hissed. He grabbed the towel wrapped around her shoulders and tossed it over her head, furiously wiping at her wet hair. He gulped upon seeing her exposed neck.
"What if someone saw you?" he harshly scolded.
"Well, people did see me."
"What?!" Hu Dengxiao paused.
"I was bathing with the other female soldiers," she said.
"Oh." Hu Dengxiao blinked. "It would've been better if you guys bathed at night when everyone is asleep."
"We won't be able to see who's trying to peep on us during night time."
Lu Tianbi slapped his hand away. "You're wiping my hair too harshly."
"S-sorry…" Hu Dengxiao sheepishly said.
"Anyway, go get the Princess some food." Lu Tianbi wished he wasn't so tall. She couldn't see past his shoulders. She wanted to look and check if the food was done, but couldn't because he was blocking her view.
"But Princess Li didn't want any!" Hu Dengxiao whined, angrily swishing his shoulders like a grumbling child.
Lu Tianbi frowned. "That can't be true. I heard she enjoys eating."
"Well, maybe she's not in the mood to eat. We kidnapped her and she's being held hostage."
"It's not like we intended to kidnap her. It's just the Commander who refuses to let her leave," Lu Tianbi said.
"True, but what can we do?"
"We should be sending her back home," Lu Tianbi deadpanned. "Not keep her in that tent."
"Why don't you tell the Commander that?"
"Do you want me to die early?" she retorted.
"Then I won't tell him." Lu Tianbi rolled her eyes. "You need to think more."
"I do think!"
"About what?" she mused.
"You." The edge of his lips rose into a large grin.
Lu Tianbi couldn't wipe the smile off of her face. She turned away from him. "You're stupid."
"Don't agree with me."
"Okay," he laughed.
"Fine, fine," he said, holding up his hands. "You girls get riled up so easily."
"Hard to believe I'm the voice of reason here," she muttered.
"Me too," he agreed, snickering when she threw him a scathing glare.
"Shut up and go grab her food. I'll check up on her," Lu Tianbi said, tossing the moist towel at him.
Hu Dengxiao effortlessly caught it. He gulped and watched her walk off. He wondered how long it would be before she finally looked his way. As Lu Tianbi walked towards the tent, she paused and smiled at what a passing soldier told her.
Hu Dengxiao's expression darkened. What the hell did that man say to make her so happy? He wished she would smile and laugh like that with him.
"Stop being so stupid," Hu Dengxiao said to himself. The soldiers were their comrades. It was silly to get so worked up over a small conversation, but he couldn't help it.
Hu Dengxiao had known Lu Tianbi for as long as he could remember. There was not a time she smiled at him in the same goofy manner that he did. She had always looked at him, but not in the way he wanted her to. She viewed him as a friend, he viewed her as a woman.
"Just go grab the food," Hu Dengxiao huffed. "Don't loiter here," he reprimanded himself.
Despite his own commands, he remained rooted and watched Lu Tianbi head into the tent. Abruptly, she ran back out with a horrified expression. Their eyes met and in an instant, Hu Dengxiao rushed to her.
"The Princess, she's gone!"
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