Li Xueyue allowed her brother to drag her down the hallways. She dealt with his anger in silence, knowing it was better to let himself calm down. He didn't like it when others intervened or tried to comfort him. He was simply too prideful for that.
"Why are we obliging the Second Prince's request?" she finally asked once the carriage was drawn.
Li Chenyang pressed his lips together. "Wang Jing rarely seeks an audience with anyone. If he does, it must be for something important."
Li Xueyue nodded.
Li Chenyang shrugged a bit. "Besides, the Empress and Wen Jinkai always go to him to vent their frustrations. Who knows? Maybe Wang Jing will leak something to us."
Li Xueyue climbed onto the carriage with her brother's help. "I doubt it. I wouldn't spill the secrets of my friends and family. It feels weird to do so, no matter who requests it."
"Nothing wrong in getting our hopes up," Li Chenyang said as he got into the carriage after her.
The coachman shutted the door for them and proceeded to the front of the carriage.
Li Xueyue glanced out the window, watching as the scenery rolled past them. "Is the Second Prince actually that calm and nice? Or is it all an act?"
Li Chenyang shifted his attention to her. "Well, I rarely interact with him. Wenmin is usually the one who is buddy-buddy with everyone."
"The Second Prince seemed so mellow and pleasant that I couldn't believe the Empress gave birth to him," Li Xueyue said. "Something about him tells me he knew I wasn't a simple servant."
Li Chenyang pressed his lips together. "The Second Prince is intelligent. If he wasn't so sickly, the Emperor would've chosen him as the Crown Prince."
Li Xueyue's eyes grew wide. "Really?"
"It's not a known fact, but Father told me of this," Li Chenyang muttered. "After the Emperor got drunk one night with his concubine, Father discovered him and dragged him out of that room before any secrets were revealed. It was then the Emperor randomly said how much he valued his second son's intelligence."
"Do you think the Second Prince might know of this?" Li Xueyue asked. "I mean, if my father said I was destined to be the Crown Prince, but my position was given away just because of my health, I'd feel offended."
"The Crown Prince's position has always belonged to the firstborn legitimate son of the Emperor. The rest of the sons born after that should never dream of touching the Crown," Li Chenyang explained.
Li Xueyue quietly nodded. She decided to change the topic. "Is the Li family planning to…" she trailed off, careful of her words.
Li Chenyang caught on to what she hinted, but didn't respond. He simply glanced out of the window, watching the trees whirl by.
The carriage ride was a little bumpy, but that was normal. The terrain leading to the Capital was a bit rough.
Li Xueyue realized she asked something that she wasn't supposed to. She couldn't help it. Curiosity always got the best of her.
"It's best that you don't know," Li Chenyang said. "Or else people will think you're an accomplice."
"How do you plan to get rid of them?" Li Xueyue asked.
"Summer is approaching," Li Chenyang abruptly said. "The weather is getting hot isn't it?"
Li Xueyue blinked at the obvious diversion of discussion. "Yes, the heat is getting unbearable."
"Many aristocrats often move to a much cooler city to reside in. The Royal family is no exception," Li Chenyang mused. "They have a vacation palace elsewhere."
Li Xueyue read between the lines. She predicted what was going to happen. On their way to their summer home, something would go down.
Li Xueyue gulped. Perhaps he was right. It was best for her to not know.
"Don't worry," Li Chenyang said. "You will be kept cool at home. No one will disturb you."
Li Xueyue slowly nodded. He was talking in circles today, but she supposed it was to keep everything a secret.
The rest of the journey to the Palace was plagued with silence. No one spoke, no one wanted to. Both of them were lost in thought.
- - - - -
"You're here!" Second Prince Wang Jing instantly said when he saw Li Chenyang exit the carriage.
Wang Jing watched Li Chenyang like a hawk. He observed as Li Chenyang turned around and offered a hand to someone in the carriage. Out stepped a beautiful woman that fitted the description of the rumors. She was indeed breathtaking in the most refreshing manner.
When she graciously smiled at Li Chenyang, Wang Jing was awestruck. Not because he was interested in her as a woman, but because she was nothing like he expected.
He thought Li Xueyue would be haughty and arrogant, given the titles and wealth bestowed upon her. But she wasn't.
There was a humble air to her. It might've been due to the way she carried herself—Graceful but not exaggerated. Everything was so… effortless. It was like she wasn't forcing herself to be something she wasn't.
"It's a pleasure to meet your acquaintance," Li Xueyue said with a small bow.
Wang Jing blinked. He smiled at her politeness. "I hope the road here wasn't rough?"
"It was," Li Chenyang muttered. "But it's always rough."
Wang Jing laughed at his cousin's straightforward behavior. It was what made the other Ministers like Li Chenyang so much.
"Well, I wouldn't want to keep everyone standing in the open," Wang Jing said. "Come, let's go to my palace."
Li Xueyue's attention drifted to the person beside him. There she was again. That veiled servant. When their eyes met, the servant politely nodded her head and looked away.
Li Xueyue knew something was odd. Servants did not nod. They bowed. Who was this woman?
Li Chenyang placed an encouraging hand on her upper back, gesturing for her to walk.
Li Xueyue blinked. She wasn't aware that she hadn't taken a single step forward. "Thank you," she whispered.
Li Chenyang simply patted the back of her head.
Wang Jing noticed how gentle Li Chenyang was. He had heard the rumors of how aloof and distant this man was. The rumors even spoke that he was unkind to all of his siblings, but this man right here didn't fit any of that description.
Wang Jing frowned towards the ground. If he was kind to Li Xueyue, why couldn't he be kind to the other siblings? Keeping his mouth shut about his misgivings, he led them to a tea room.
Li Xueyue realized how well-kept this room was. The windows were pushed open and the curtains fluttered. It was well-circulated and airy inside with ample room and comfortable chairs to sit back and relax on.
"Please sit," he gestured to the chair right as his veiled servant disappeared. Most likely to fetch the tea and snacks.
Li Xueyue sat down on the chair that directly faced him.
Li Chenyang sat by her side. He faced the door as that was what he preferred. It was best to know who came in and out of this room. Even though the Second Prince was as harmless as a fly, Li Chenyang could not lower his guard.
"You must be wondering why I invited you here," Wang Jing spoke up. "Oh but don't worry, there's no ulterior motive. I'm not a fan of schemes."
Li Xueyue nodded. "That's good to hear."
"You see, I have a weak body, so ruining others was never my forte. It's such a waste of time too, don't you think?" the Second Prince abruptly asked.
Wang Jing glanced at her and then Li Chenyang. "I mean, if we hate someone, we should just say it instead of holding it in and waiting for the perfect opportunity to hurt someone."
Li Chenyang was alarmed by the Second Prince's words. Did… Wang Jing know something that he shouldn't?
The more irritated Li Chenyang was, the more he smiled to mask his frustration. His smile forcibly met his eyes to look genuine.
"How refreshing of a behavior you have," Li Chenyang commented. "It's a pity that being blunt will ruin reputations. I'm sure you're aware of that? Your mother, my Royal Aunt, used to be scornful when she was a Crown Princess because she didn't know how to control her tongue."
Wang Jing blinked. He was instantly struck down by his cousin and the war hadn't even begun yet. "Haha… I suppose so. I'm glad Mother learned now."
"Hm, it'd be best if she taught you the same thing," Li Chenyang muttered. "In High Society, we do not use violence. Words are our weapons and defense. I'm sure you're aware of this."
The Second Prince shrunk in his chair. He didn't think his cousin would be so ruthless from the start.
"I didn't mean to broach an unspeakable subject—"
"You didn't." Li Chenyang chuckled. He looked at the empty table. "Your servant is taking her sweet time with the tea and snacks."
Li Xueyue felt like an outsider in this conversation but she knew Li Chenyang didn't mean it.
There was something about the way the Second Prince glanced at her made her feel uneasy. It was as if he saw right past her—like he knew everything she didn't.
When their eyes met, he pleasantly smiled. "My, that's a lovely hairpin."
Li Xueyue blinked, touching it. She had forgotten what the maidservants slipped onto her hair. She felt the petals of the tiny flowers that were clustered together. It was a gift from the Duchess.
"The tiny flowers bunched together like that reminds me of hydrangeas. How pretty." Wang Jing clasped his hands together. "Who gave it to you?"
"Who else?" Li Chenyang said. "I hope you're not trying to start a rumor, Second Prince."
The Second Prince shifted in his chair. Was this man never going to let her speak? Was that the plan? If so, it was a stupid one. He truly meant no harm...
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