272 Left a Mark
Li Xueyue hurried off to her room. Sure enough, the servants were already waiting for her outside. One opened the door for her whilst the other waited for her to be seated.
The servants placed the large carrying tray down and began to move the plates of pastries onto the table while they served tea.
"You're all excused," Li Xueyue said once they finished setting everything up. The servants politely bowed their heads. They left the room without a single noise and closed the door behind them.
Li Xueyue excitedly pulled the letters out of her pocket. They were a bit wrinkled because she had sat down with it in her pocket, but it didn't dampen her enthusiasm. She gingerly soothed out the creases and opened them all together. She sorted them by date and began with the earliest one.
'To my Little Hamster,
You haven't written to me at all. Are you frustrated that I left without a word? If so, then Hu Dengxiao did a sorry job and I should punish him for his incompetence. I should've explained everything to you in person but I couldn't. The situation in Hanjian was simply too chaotic to be explained in a single letter. As usual, I can't disclose much.
But how have you been? I hope you're safe and well in Wuyi. If not… you can always come to Hanjian. I will always welcome you. No matter the problems here, I will ensure your happiness. If you ever need a place to escape to, my arms are wide open for you.
Even if you're troubled by something, please do not skip a meal. You seem to do that a lot. I noticed you've lost weight since the last time we met. Is everything alright? I will seek your response.
Additionally, have you been reading books as I've suggested last time? It'll do you well...
Li Xueyue let out a laugh. Leave it to him to worry about her and nag even through a letter. She smiled at the letter and hugged it to her chest. She missed him even more now. She wondered what life would be like in Hanjian. He must've been busy with court duties.
She opened the next letter.
'To my Sunshine who doesn't like to write letters,
Perhaps I should've recommended you to read books on writing. This is my third letter, the first was the one Hu Dengxiao delivered. I've yet to see you respond. Is everything alright? Are you feeling okay? Is something amiss? Have you been eating well?
There's so much I want to ask you in person. I've missed you. Everything reminds me of you. From the morning sun to the midnight moon. How have you been? You better be eating well. I expect to see your usual hamster cheeks if you ever come to Hanjian.
I've become the Crown Prince. The pesky title was assigned to me shortly after my return. The Courts and my faction were busy in my absence. It would explain the frequent letters they've sent out during my stay in Wuyi. Such pesky things they are.
Do not worry, Little Hamster. I won't be taking a Crown Princess from another country because I'm waiting for my Wangfei from Wuyi to come to Hanjian. Without my permission, no woman will obtain the title of Crown Princess.
I hope you're well. If you're not, tell me what you're feeling. If there are pressing matters, tell me. I will abandon everything to see you, Sunshine. No request is too big if it's made by you.
Li Xueyue's smile slipped a bit. How could he know her so well? He asked the right questions. She didn't want to think about how she was feeling. It would force her to accept the truth: she was lonely in this household. Everyone tried their best, she appreciated their efforts, but the twins were always busy with their respective work. The Duchess wanted to make up for lost time with Minghua, and the Duke was incredibly busy dealing with palace matters.
Li Xueyue had always occupied her time with reading, writing, sword fighting, archery, and horseback riding. She had a routine in place and she was always doing something. Yet, nothing could fill the void from the lack of human interaction. Her instructors were friendly, but it wasn't like they were her friends.
"I miss you, Yu Zhen…" she trailed off.
Li Xueyue opened the final letter.
'To Li Xueyue,
I might as well be writing to a wall. At least, I won't be expecting a reply if it was so. Are you receiving these letters at all? If my letters have landed in the wrong hands, then I want you, the unintended person reading this letter to not be a fool and kindly deliver this letter along with the earlier ones to the Li Manor. People say we shouldn't shoot the messenger, but at this point, mine might be publicly executed.
Li Xueyue laughed at the short letter and his address. She could feel his impatience even through a letter. She reached for another pastry and blinked in surprise. She had finished them all while reading his letters.
"At least his nagging worked," Li Xueyue said to herself. She took a sip of her tea and placed the letters down. Wiping her hands with a handkerchief, she began to neatly fold the letters back to its original form.
Standing up, she headed to her vanity. Pulling out a key that was tied around her neck, she inserted it into the keyhole of a drawer and twisted it. She pulled it open and gently placed the letters into it, next to his pendant. She wanted to keep it safe, just like his pendant.
Picking up the obsidian accessory, she couldn't help but run her fingers over the design. Her touch lingered upon the engraving of his name. Her heart ached at the thought of him. She truly missed everything about him. From his slight smile to his teasing remarks. Whether she liked it or not, he had left a mark upon her.
- - - - -
The day went by as usual. The sun rose high in the sky, only to set in the evening. Cerulean blue and fluffy white muddled into nothingness when dusk vastly approached. The clouds made way for the stars, just as the sun disappeared for the moon.
Duke Li Shenyang and Li Chenyang sat in the carriage with a disgruntled expression.
"Hanjian is growing more restless and impatient as the days go by," Duke Li Shenyang said.
"I know," Li Chenyang responded. "I would too, if I was them. Our initial talks of a peace treaty never came to finalizing one. Candidates were sent from both sides to appease each other, but one of Hanjian's candidates had run off a while back. Hanjian must've been worried."
Duke Li Shenyang nodded. "Additionally, the treaty should've allowed both countries to trade freely, but the late Emperor placed so many restrictions and imposed tariffs that made trading costly. It made Wuyi look suspicious and gave the impression that we're not sincere. Telling them about Jiangsu's plans averted their suspicions a little since we revealed vital information.
"Hanjian supports the Li Family because we've continuously pushed for the treaty to be finalized. We were the ones who urged for the territory wars to be called off since there were too many losses on both sides."
Li Chenyang chewed on his nail anxiously. "We shouldn't put off the matter with Hanjian any longer. They were already suspicious of Wuyi, and with Jiangsu in the mix, the trust we've built with Hanjian has weakened. If we do finalize the peace treaty, they'll want something from us to prove our sincerity. God damn it, that damn Emperor ruined everything. Now we have to give something valuable to them as a way of apology."
"That is why," Duke Li Shenyang threw a pointed look. "I told you to discuss it with her."
"Xueyue will be burdened with the title—"
"She is the most eligible person in the entire country," Duke Li Shenyang ruthlessly sniped.
He stared at his son with disapproval. "In the eyes of the public, Li Xueyue is the daughter of the Prime Minister—a favored one, at that. If Xueyue is indirectly showing her support for us in Hanjian, the Courts of Wuyi will not be able to refute our reign for we settled one of the biggest problems this country has faced—a ceasefire with Hanjian."
Li Chenyang let out a sigh at the pressure placed upon his shoulders. His father could easily tell Xueyue himself, but the Duke wanted to give his son the option to rebut.
"You're wise, Chenyang," Duke Li Shenyang sternly said.
"You know it better than anyone where Xueyue belongs. She will be happier with him, and we'll be benefitting from her help. She has always wanted to give back to us. You're burdening her more by wanting her to stay in Wuyi."
"I don't want her to feel used! She'll think she was a replacement all along for Minghua if we send her off to Hanjian," Li Chenyang argued.
"Why don't you ask her if she feels that way?" Duke Li Shenyang asked. "Have we ever requested something from her? Have we ever compared her to Minghua? Have we ever forced her to reside in Minghua's bedroom and wear the same clothes as her?"
Li Chenyang was stunned to silence. His father was right. Of course he always was. His words were sharp, even towards family members. Li Chenyang could effortlessly argue with everyone else without qualms. It was easy for him to bend people to his will, but when it came to family, he couldn't. He always relented for them because he cared for them.
"Tell her by today," Duke Li Shenyang demanded. He left no room for an argument. "I've already given her the letters. She will want to see him. I'm sure of it."
Li Chenyang stared out the window, refusing to respond or acknowledge his father's words.
Duke Li Shenyang shook his head at his son's blatant frustration. "Well?"
Li Chenyang bit down on his tongue. "I want what's best for her," he finally said.
The response was vague, but Duke Li Shenyang accepted it. He trusted his son's decision. Li Chenyang was intelligent. Li Chenyang would come to the perfect decision, even if it would hurt him.