Duchess Wang Qixing couldn't care less about the fact that she had thrown her shoe at a Commander who was also the Second Prince. Titles didn't matter to an angry mother. Nothing did, except punishments.
"You spoke too brash with me," she snapped.
Yu Zhen blinked. Wuyi's customs were truly different from those of Hanjian. "I apologize then," he softly said. "It wasn't my intention."
Duchess Wang Qixing liked a man who was good at admitting his mistakes. Her rage simmered slightly. "From now on, I want you to stay far away from my daughter. You've already caused enough damage."
Yu Zhen didn't understand. He was offering to save Xueyue from this mess, but this woman wasn't accepting it. Why not? Had he said something wrong?
"If you keep her away from me," Yu Zhen began, "No one else will have her."
"Yu Zhen," Li Xueyue hissed, knowing this was not the proper way to deal with things.
"Just because her reputation is ruined, it doesn't mean there won't be another suitor," Duchess Wang Qixing said. "Her title as a Princess will overcome any reluctance. Her family name will silence the people.
Yet again, Li Xueyue was ignored. She felt like the side character in her love story!
"That's not what I meant," Yu Zhen chuckled. A ghost of a smile rested upon his lips.
"What were you implying then?" Duchess Wang Qixing asked.
"Every suitor that shows up to that door," he mused. "Will end up dying under mysterious circumstances."
Duchess Wang Qixing gasped at the absurdity. "You dare to spill blood on foreign lands? Do you want to start a war? It's not that easy to murder the sons of aristocrats."
"Who said I would murder them?" Yu Zhen tilted his head. "For all they know, the man fell on his sword."
"I will spill your secrets and tell people it was you who did it," Duchess Wang Qixing bit out.
"That will further ruin Xueyue," Yu Zhen noted. "People know she's acquainted with me. They'll gossip that she asked me to kill these pesky men."
Duchess Wang Qixing narrowed her eyes. "What a troublesome man you are. And here I was, thinking I saved my Xueyue from Wen Jinkai, only for her to meet you."
Yu Zhen's expression hardened at the comparison. His gaze finally met Xueyue and she urgently shook her head. She didn't want him to threaten her mother.
His features softened. She loved her family. The things she love, he would protect.
"Why can't I marry her?" Yu Zhen finally asked. "Wasn't that what you wanted all along?"
"Xueyue is only eighteen! Don't you realize how young she is?! I know Hanjian does not value the idea of marrying extremely young women since your traditions are a lot different from us."
Yu Zhen was astonished at the last bit of information. He was five years older than her.
Yu Zhen didn't know she was this young. Suddenly, their relationship felt wrong. She was indeed, too young. He knew Wuyi accepted marriage at this early of an age, but Hanjian did not tolerate it. Especially the Emperor.
Yu Zhen slightly frowned. "If you had told me that from the start—"
"What? You'd refrain yourself from advancing on her?" Duchess Wang Qixing scoffed.
Yu Zhen lost count how many times this family had insulted him.
"He comes in peace, mother." Li Xueyue was grateful that she could finally get a full sentence into this argument. Everyone kept on interrupting her that having a word in was difficult.
Duchess Wang Qixing sighed through her nose. She knew she was being too harsh, but what else could be done? This man just wouldn't listen!
"The decrees," Li Chenyang began. "You stole them from us, where is it—"
Li Xueyue peered at Yu Zhen. "He took it for our benefit."
"What are you talking about?" Li Chenyang asked. He watched as Yu Zhen reached into the satchel attached by the side of the horse.
"See for yourself," Yu Zhen said. He tossed the scrolls at Li Chenyang who caught it mid-air.
Li Chenyang tucked one under his arm and unrolled the next. The most important one was the transfer of ownership. It was properly signed with fingerprints inked in blood. It was no mistake.
"How did you…?" Li Chenyang breathed out.
"Let's just say, a Commander has his ways." Yu Zhen pleasantly smiled. "I saved you all of the hassles."
Li Wenmin scratched the back of his neck. Now the Li family owed him a favor. "Why did you--"
"I did it for Li Xueyue's sake. Not yours," Yu Zhen interrupted.
Li Chenyang swallowed. "Was this willingly signed?"
"Does it matter?" Yu Zhen responded.
"Of course it does," Li Chenyang said. "We can't have the Viscount randomly showing up to the Imperial Courts, telling us that he signed it against his will."
"You won't have to worry about him showing up. Ever."
"Did you do something to him?" Li Chenyang asked. He wasn't sure if he wanted to know the answer to that.
"Maybe," Yu Zhen said.
Li Chenyang was skeptical. "It's suspicious if we get ownership, but the Viscount suddenly vanished."
"I suppose that's true," Yu Zhen firmly nodded. "In that case, what do you propose?"
Li Wenmin didn't like the sound of this. "Chenyang, you don't mean you're actually going to accept his help, right?"
"It's too late, we already did. Against our free will as well." Li Chenyang sighed. What's done has been done. It was irreversible. "But I appreciate the help."
Yu Zhen finally loosened a bit. Finally.
"Don't worry," Yu Zhen added on. "I won't use this as leverage to get Li Xueyue."
Duchess Wang Qixing nodded in satisfaction. So maybe he still had an ounce of decency in him.
Xiao Lizi anxiously shuffled her feet, growing tired of standing idle. Yu Zhen patted her mane. "You've gotten what you both wanted. Xueyue and the signed decrees."
"Yes, we have." Li Chenyang nodded, wondering where this conversation was headed to.
"I will be taking my leave now."
Li Xueyue stiffened. Just like that? Without even acknowledging her?
Yu Zhen smiled upon meeting her glance. He predicted what she was thinking. "Are we having the same discussion for the tenth time? We really have horrible communication."
"You treat me so differently each time I'm with you. First you're nice, then your cold," Li Xueyue said.
"I treat you coldly because you say the wrong things."
Li Xueyue frowned a bit. "How am I supposed to know when you don't tell me?"
"Your conscience and morals should've told you," Yu Zhen calmly explained.
Li Xueyue blinked. Was he... calling her immoral? He had some nerves! "You don't even communicate with me when you're mad—"
"And neither do you."
Li Xueyue faltered. She didn't know this bad habit of hers. It was difficult to vocalize her thoughts and concerns. The words that Viscount Bai Sheng instilled inside of her head were gradually losing its presence, but they continue to influence her still.
Li Xueyue believed no matter how much practice she would have, she would still remember his crude insults.
Women should keep their mouth shut, especially a little girl like her. Her value in life decreased each time she talked, he had once told her. Her emotions didn't matter and if Li Xueyue voiced it, she would be considered an irritating woman. Or so, she was told.
Yu Zhen's gaze softened upon seeing she was torn by his words. "Consider my proposal wisely. This is the last time I will ever forgive you."
Yu Zhen knew that was a lie. She was too attractive to him.
Yu Zhen had already forgiven her for what the wrongs she did in the past, and would even forgive her for the wrongs she would commit in the future. It was with this realization that Yu Zhen knew he had fallen helplessly in love with her. Except, he was not the only one falling.
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