"I will thoughtfully consider your proposal," Li Xueyue said.
Yu Zhen had gotten out of his way to swallow his pride for her. It was time for her to return the favor.
Yu Zhen smiled a bit and rode off.
"Let's head inside," Duchess Wang Qixing said. "I hope you're ready for your lecture."
Li Xueyue gulped. It wasn't her fault for being kidnapped, but she supposed her mother was right. She rarely listened.
- - - - -
Li Xueyue rubbed her ears, feeling as if they'd been yelled at.
The Duchess had spent the past hour venting about Xueyue's wrongdoings. Her mother had exasperatedly lectured her on the importance of reputations and not allowing men to do as they pleased.
Next, Duchess Wang Qixing scolded Li Xueyue for giving into the Commander so easily, for lowering her guard. There was so much to be said, and all of it was done in less than an hour. By the time her mother finished, Li Xueyue had sunk low in her chair, riddled with guilt.
"Sweetheart, I say this for your own good," Duchess Wang Qixing said. "I lecture you because I care. If I didn't, I would've turned my head the other direction."
Li Xueyue nodded before engulfing her mother in a meaningful hug. Not because she wanted to appease her mother, but because, she truly appreciated the lecture. It reminded her of much of a fool she was behaving.
Duchess Wang Qixing said to not chase the man, but Li Xueyue had done exactly that.
However, there were times where mothers didn't know best, for they did not walk in the same shoes as their daughters.
Duke Li Shenyang had returned home soon after the lecture. During dinner, he too gave her a lecture about her mischief. He was not angered by her actions but simply disappointed. The latter was a lot worse.
Li Xueyue didn't want to ever let them down but had done exactly that.
Li Xueyue spent the next few days cooped in her room, practicing what she told them she would do.
Yu Zhen hadn't reached out to her, but Li Xueyue refused to let that bother her.
Slowly, but surely, she started her old hobbies. In her free time, she took Heiyue on a run, or practiced her archery. The sun had consistently beamed down on her, adding a healthy glow to her pale complexion.
Even the Li Family had noticed her progressive change for the better.
The days trickled past, peacefully and slowly, without any momentous event. It was strangely reassuring but nerve-racking. Why hadn't he contacted her?
Li Xueyue flipped the page on her book, deciding to focus on her studies.
"Xiao Yue~" Li Wenmin giddily said, skipping into her room. "What are you doing?"
"Reading poems," Li Xueyue said, glancing up from the small book. When she saw his eager expression, she smiled. He wanted something. It was so obvious.
"Hey hey, remember when Yu Zhen came over to teach you Hanjian's techniques. Can you teach them to me?"
Li Xueyue tilted her head. "I don't remember much of it since it was one lesson."
"That's fine, I still want to learn!" Li Wenmin said. "You're such a good teacher Xiao Yue. If it wasn't for your archery skills and your amazing ability to teach, I wouldn't have improved on my archery."
Li Xueyue snorted. "Your compliments are too exaggerated."
"Hehe~" Li Wemin didn't bother denying it.
"Well, I suppose I can. I'm not doing anything important in the first place—"
"Actually, you are," Li Chenyang said, stepping into her room.
Li Wenmin's shoulder dropped in disappointment. Great! Li Chenyang always ruined the mood.
"What does she have to do so early in the morning?" Li Wenmin huffed. "We just finished breakfast too. I'm sure whatever you want can wait."
"As you said, she just ate. Too much strenuous exercise will make her throw up," Li Chenyang mused.
Li Wenmin scowled in displeasure. He was annoyed by the accuracy of his younger brother. Too eager to learn, he had forgotten the force she would be exerting on herself.
"Anyways, you will be busy for half the day." Li Chenyang's face became more stern. "You've been summoned into the Royal Palace."
Li Wenmin's expression darkened. "What do you mean? I thought Uncle and Aunt didn't want anything to do with her anymore. They haven't contacted her for weeks."
"It's not the Emperor and Aunt," Li Chenyang muttered. "It's the Second Prince."
Li Xueyue's suspicious gaze instantly met Li Wenmin. She had not forgotten the encounter they had near the guest palace. Was her identity given away?
"What does he want?" Li Xueyue asked.
Li Chenyang shook his head. "I do not know. He simply requested for you, that is all."
"Remember when I told you I ran into him on my way to the guest palace?" Li Wenmin said. "Well, he asked about Xueyue. He thought Mother and Father were replacing Minghua with her."
"How absurd." Li Chenyang scowled. "If we truly were replacing Minghua, we would've kept Xueyue locked at home, dressed in all of the styles and clothing that Minghua used to wear."
"Exactly." Li Wenmin sighed. "Well, words travel, I suppose."
Li Chenyang glowered at the ground. "We don't have time for this meaningless gossip."
"We don't," Li Wenmin agreed.
"And, have you thought about what I asked of you last time?" Li Chenyang asked.
"What did the People's Representative say?" Li Wenmin shot back.
"He agreed that a change would be beneficial. There is no need for a puppet on the throne."
Li Wenmin was stunned. He grew quiet and unsure of his next course of action.
"It's too late to back out, Wenmin," Li Chenyang coldly stated. "You already know what's going to happen. Your only choice is to join us or betray your family."
"That's unfair!" Li Wenmin bickered. "How can you make me choose between that?"
"The fact that you have to choose is already despicable," Li Chenyang said. "We're your family. Blood is thicker than water."
"Well, yes but—"
"I've had enough of this conversation," Li Chenyang deadpanned. He approached Xueyue and grabbed her wrist, dragging her out of the room.
Li Wenmin stood there in utter silence. He was torn between his loyalty to this country and to his family. If the Li Family was to usurp the throne, how many people would be mercilessly slaughtered? How many members of the Royal Family must die? How many of the Emperor's supporting aristocrats would be killed without mercy?
Li Wenmin stared at his hands, trembling. He had never used it to kill his peers before.
Sure, Li Wenmin had joined many battles, but that was different. He was defending his country, something he was sworn to do. But now, he was asked to kill the people who ruled this country.
Torn at a crossroad, Li Wenmin could do nothing but sit down and ponder his choices.
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