Duke Li Shenyang was the first to notice the distress in Xueyue's eyes. She was paler than usual. His lips dipped into a disapproving frown. He made up his mind to call for a doctor before he leaves for his morning work. It was time for her to get used to bitter herbal tonics. At least she'd sleep better with it.
"You've barely touched your food," Duke Li Shenyang pointed out. His tone was gentle and reassuring. He didn't want to overwhelm her or make it seem he was angered by her lack of appetite.
"I'm not hungry today," Li Xueyue said. She tried her best to sound cheerful in hopes of not raising any concerns.
Li Xueyue placed her chopsticks down. "I'm sorry, I had a rough night," she admitted. "Do you mind calling for the doctor?"
"Of course," Duke Li Shenyang warmly responded. "I was planning on doing that."
Li Xueyue smiled in appreciation. "Thank you, Father."
Duke Li Shenyang's lips slightly curled upwards at her politeness. Even after all these years, she hadn't changed. At least she knew how to appreciate what she had.
"You don't have to thank me, child," Duke Li Shenyang responded as he gestured for her to eat more.
"I'm sorry," Li Xueyue said. It was a force of habit. She couldn't help but show her gratitude to all of them. They had done so much for her. She wanted to find a way to make them proud.
"You also don't have to apologize, sweetheart," Duchess Wang Qixing said.
Duchess Wang Qixing's attention wandered to Xueyue's dark complexion. The dark circles under her eyes had worsened, and her cheeks were beginning to look sunken in.
"How about I brew you some chamomile tea and we call off the training for today? Some sleep will alleviate your exhaustion," Duchess Wang Qixing offered.
Li Xueyue slowly nodded. Her smile widened. "Thank you, Mother," she quietly responded.
Duchess Wang Qixing fondly patted Xueyue on the hand. "Go rest up, I'll make the tea as soon as I finish eating."
"It's alright," Li Xueyue said. "I'll fetch a servant for it. Enjoy your meal."
Li Wenmin's attention finally went to her. The second he glanced at her, he was filled with concern. His heart felt heavy to see her like this.
"Xueyue," he spoke up. "Your eyebags are horrible."
"Thanks for the compliment, Wen-ge," she said and chuckled. "You sure know how to charm a lady, don't you?"
Li Wenmin slumped in his chair. "You know I didn't mean it like that," he explained. "How about we work out all that energy so that you can fall asleep faster?"
"No need," Li Xueyue said. She pushed the chair back and stood up without a sound. Her eyes met the Duke's who nodded in acknowledgment.
"Please excuse me," she muttered before leaving the breakfast table.
"And then there were four," Li Wenmin said as he picked up a chicken drumstick.
"Thank you for pointing out the obvious," Li Chenyang sarcastically said. "Without that contribution, the entire family would've been left in the dark."
Li Wenmin resisted the urge to chuck the chicken drumstick at his brother's head. Where did he learn to have such a bad attitude from?!
"What are we going to do?" Duchess Wang Qixing purposefully asked. She turned to her husband who also noticed the tension between the two sisters.
Duke Li Shenyang let out a hum. He pondered his next decision whilst sipping his morning tea. He didn't think both daughters would hate each other so quickly, but that was expected wasn't it?
"They don't like each other," Duke Li Shenyang finally said. "It's quite obvious, but I'm not surprised."
Li Chenyang loudly sighed. He placed his utensils down whilst his older brother continued to shove food down his throat.
"It's because Minghua feels replaced by Xueyue," Li Chenyang said.
"What?" Duchess Wang Qixing exasperated. She was shocked by this news, her eyes widening a bit.
"But we'd never do such a thing to our Minghua," Duchess Wang Qixing said. "Taking Xueyue into our family is just gaining another daughter. A mother could never replace their children. We love them equally."
Duke Li Shenyang pressed his lips together. "I can see why she thinks like that. Xueyue came at a convenient time for us."
"How will we address this issue?" Li Chenyang asked. His lips curled downwards when he saw Wenmin shove a whole egg into his mouth.
"I will personally speak to Minghua," Duchess Wang Qixing suggested. "She'll listen to me, I just know it."
Duke Li Shenyang raised a bushy brow. "Our daughter is a stubborn one. It'll take more than one lecture to get through her thick skull."
"Hmph, I wonder where she gets that from," Duchess Wang Qixing bit out.
"I'm not going to lie," Li Wenmin spoke up in between bites of food. ���I'd feel the same if I was her."
Duke Li Shenyang couldn't deny the fact that he did see a resemblance between Minghua and Xueyue when both women were asleep. It was what prompted him to bring Xueyue home from the forest on that fateful morning.
"Worst case scenario," Duchess Wang Qixing began. "If they still don't get along, I'll force them into the same room and not let them out until they hug each other in a truce."
"No, don't do that," Duke Li Shenyang firmly said. "It'll make them hate each other."
Li Chenyang didn't like where this conversation was going, especially the glint in his father's eyes. "Then what do you suggest we do, Dad?"
"Let them resolve the conflict on their own. We shouldn't instigate anything unless the problem gets out of hand," Duke Li Shenyang said.
"So basically, we let the awkward atmosphere continue," Li Chenyang muttered. "Great idea. Thank you for your input."
"Don't sass me, Son." Duke Li Shenyang laughed. "Trust me. It's better for them to deal with the problem on their own. If we force them to do anything or lecture them, it'll only worsen the issue."
Li Chenyang chewed on his nails. His father had a point. He couldn't deny that. He knew Xueyue and Minghua were both too stubborn to listen. It would take more than one try to lecture them.
"Fine," Li Chenyang said. "We'll let them deal with it for now, but if the issue worsens, then you'll have to intervene."
Duke Li Shenyang nodded in response. "Now that breakfast has concluded, I have to rush to court. It is without a doubt, a mess in there right now. Chenyang, you're coming with me."
"Do I have a choice?" Li Chenyang muttered as he stood up. He glanced down and noticed Wenmin hadn't stopped inhaling the food.
Angrily, Li Chenyang slapped his brother upside the head.
"Ow!" Li Wenmin cried out as he rubbed the spot. "What was that for?!"
��Chenyang!" Duchess Wang Qixing scowled. "You shouldn't hit your brother."
Li Chenyang stared at his twin with irritation. "Stop eating and try to contribute to the conversation next time!"
"The food was too good, I couldn't help myself. Besides, it wasn't like I could offer good advice."
Li Chenyang didn't bother to respond. He approached the door and was the first to leave, only to be accompanied by his father.
"And then there were two," Li Wenmin repeated.
"Or one," he added on when Duchess Wang Qixing stood up.
Duchess Wang Qixing chuckled at her son's pout. "Eat up. I'll be in the gardens."
"Okay…" Li Wenmin trailed off as he watched his mother leave the dining room. 'Hmph, that's fine with me! More food for me anyways.'
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