"Xueyue, wait!" Li Chenyang called out when he saw a distinct figure in the distance. Her white hanfu fluttered in the wind as her hair danced in the direction of the soft breeze. When she glanced back, he was awestruck by her beauty. She truly resembled a fairy from the Heavens.
Li Chenyang knew he was protective of her. He couldn't help it. He'd never want her to fall in the wrong hands. The day her sleeves would be tainted with sins would be the day he would sacrifice everything to save her from harm.
"Xueyue," Li Chenyang called when he caught up to her. "You're on the verge of tears," he pointed out. He frowned upon seeing her moistened eyes.
"It must've been difficult to admit that," he grumbled. He lifted a hand to wipe the tears away but she did it herself before he could.
"It's nothing, don't worry about me, Chen-ge. How's Minghua? I think she might've been overcome with shock."
"Don't worry about her. The only thing she can do is hurt others with words. There is no bite in her bark," Li Chenyang responded. "She said something unexpected when you left."
"Oh..." Li Xueyue blinked. She sniffled a bit and continued to wipe at her eyes, frustrated that her emotions had gotten the best of her.
"What did she say?" Li Xueyue asked.
"Minghua said you were accused of murdering an elderly caretaker. It was the reason you were sentenced to death by beating. Is it true?"
Li Xueyue's eyes widened. It was almost as if a cold bucket of water was emptied over her. Her fingers shook. So the cat was out of the bag now.
"I-I—" she stuttered, unable to say something.
"It was just a false accusation, right? You were framed? I know you were. So don't hesitate to tell me the truth," Li Chenyang hurriedly added on. He was afraid of upsetting her. All of this must've been too much for her to handle. He wouldn't be surprised if she suddenly requested to leave this city for a change of scenery.
"I was framed," Li Xueyue quickly said. "I-I woke up one night in the servants' quarter. I don't know what happened, but the next thing I knew, there was a dead body in front of me. It was Viscount Bai Sheng's elderly caretaker. And then the Bai family all came rushing in and they saw me next to the dead caretaker..."
"I see," Li Chenyang muttered. "Someone was out to get you, but I'm not surprised. It's a pity the Bai family didn't suffer more at the hands of Yu Zhen."
Li Xueyue's head snapped up at Chenyang's words. "You… don't think of me as a murderer?"
"You said it yourself that you didn't do it. You've rarely lied to me, Xueyue. This time, I will believe you more than the rest."
Li Xueyue blinked in surprise. He gently patted her on the cheek.
"Don't look so puzzled that I believed you. I've learned my lesson from when I didn't trust you about the news of Minghua," Li Chenyang mused. He was hoping to lighten the mood with a small joke, but couldn't think of one.
"You must hate being in Wuyi," he suddenly said. "Everywhere you go, you are haunted by your past."
Li Xueyue slowly nodded. "If it wasn't for the Li family, I wouldn't know what to do with myself."
Li Chenyang smiled a bit at her words. She was never good at being sentimental. He already knew the sincerity of her words.
"It's late, you should try to rest. I heard the doctor came for a visit. I'll have the servants boil the herbal tonic and have it sent to your room."
"Thank you," Li Xueyue said.
"Now off you go," Li Chenyang said and ushered her off. He watched as she walked down the hallway and snuck a peek back at him. When she saw he was still watching, she gave him a small wave.
Li Chenyang chuckled at her action. He waved back and soon, she disappeared around a corner. He recalled a conversation they had in the Palace and decided that perhaps it was truly better for Xueyue to leave for Hanjian.
- - - - -
"Did you speak to her about it?" Duke Li Shenyang asked the second his younger son walked into the private study.
"No, not yet. I briefly hinted at it, but I don't think she understood what I was trying to imply," Li Chenyang responded.
"Hanjian is growing restless. Even before the Emperor's death, the treaty wasn't finalized. We only called off the war after deciding to open the trade routes to them, but the late Emperor went back on his word and had demanded it to be closed."
"I know," Li Chenyang said. "There will likely be another war if we don't open the trade routes again. Additionally, they want to know if we're actually sincere with the allegiance. After Jiangsu's plan was revealed to them, I'm sure Hanjian is questioning where the loyalty of Wuyi lies."
"Well, I'm still impressed that Yu Zhen didn't show favoritism or any leniency, even though he blatantly knows I'm the one dealing with the entire issue," Duke Li Shenyang sarcastically remarked.
Li Chenyang chuckled a bit. It was strange that the Crown Prince was speaking for his country, instead of the Emperor of Hanjian. Perhaps the Emperor was testing the capabilities of the new Crown Prince?
"At least we know he's not a mere Second Prince anymore," Li Chenyang added on. "I'm sure the Courts are heavily watching him as well to make sure he doesn't show favouritism."
Duke Li Shenyang let out a sigh. "I suppose so. Having him in the family will be good if Xueyue decides to leave for Hanjian."
"Let's not rush her," Li Chenyang explained. "It'll look like we're sending her off now that Minghua has returned even if we don't have that intention in mind."
"Hanjian would be a nice change of scenery for her. Once we begin to establish the start of the Li Dynasty, everything will be chaotic. People will seek her out as our weakness and target her. It's best if Xueyue isn't caught in all of the chaos."
Li Chenyang nodded. "I know, but we're the ones who said Yu Zhen should wait to prove his sincerity towards her."
"Words are a fickle thing," Duke Li Shenyang mused. "They can always be taken back. This is why I always prefer everything to be on paper. Stamped, signed, and sealed."
"Father…" Li Chenyang trailed off in warning. He didn't want to see Xueyue go so quickly. He had barely spent enough time with her.
"Don't look so aggrieved. It's only marriage. You make it seem as if she can never come back, or we can't visit her."
"It'll practically feel that way," Li Chenyang said. "She'll be all the way on the other side of the country. Traveling there would be harsh for all of us. She won't be able to come back as she pleases as it'll look suspicious. People will think there's trouble in paradise with Yu Zhen if she abruptly returned."
"Well, we can visit her then. You worry too much about a life that isn't yours to live," Duke Li Shenyang responded. "At the end of the day, I will respect Xueyue's wishes. If she wants to wait a bit longer for Yu Zhen, she can."
Duke Li Shenyang reached into his drawers and pulled out three letters. "But before we ask her anything, let's show her these."
"You're not being fair, Father," Li Chenyang jeered with a scowl. "If she sees these letters, she'll surely miss him and want to see him."
"I'm sure she already misses him," Duke Li Shenyang retorted. "Don't you want her to be happy? There is nothing for Xueyue in Wuyi. She is already a Princess here. She does nothing at home except for training. Her days are filled with boredom. Hanjian's open-minded nature will do her well."
Li Chenyang glowered at the letters. His father added the finishing blow by standing up and waiving the sealed envelopes in front of his face.
The corner of Duke Li Shenyang's lips curled into an amused smile. His younger son was sulking. "You finally behaved your age," he joked.
"You give it to her. I don't want to," Li Chenyang huffed. "I'm sure Xueyue didn't send out any letters yet. Why is that damn Prince writing so many?"
"Did you consume vinegar?"  Duke Li Shenyang asked.
"Tch." Li Chenyang crossed his arms.
Duke Li Shenyang let out a bark of taunting laugh when he saw that reaction. He wiped a nonexistent tear from his eyes. "Comedy gold," he teased.
Duke Li Shenyang enjoyed seeing his son so glum and pouty. It reminded him that Chenyang still had this side to him. He couldn't help but want to bully his son even more.
"It has been a month since the Prince's departure," Duke Li Shenyang said. "I'm sure he misses her dearly."
"I'm going off to bed," Li Chenyang angrily bit out.
"Not so quick," Duke Li Shenyang said. "Marquis Ning has invited us to have an afternoon tea with him on the day that you don't have to work. Unfortunately, I'm swamped with court issues on that day. Why don't you accompany him with your mother?"
"If this is a matchmaking scheme, I don't want to go."
"Who said it is?" Duke Li Shenyang asked. "Besides, you already know the nature of Marquis Ning. He's been very supportive of us."
"I know," Li Chenyang deadpanned. "Fine. I'll go, but on the condition that Mother doesn't bring up talks of marriage."
"Deal," Duke Li Shenyang instantly agreed. He smirked behind his son's back. If only this fool knew… His mother was the best at matchmaking. She wouldn't mention marriage, but who's to say, relationships between children were off the table?
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