Li Chenyang was in a glum mood when he exited the carriage after his father. This morning, he had promised to see Xueyue but couldn't find the time to do so before he was whisked away to the Palace. He let out a tired sigh, weighed down by the duties he had today. The battle was nearly finished. The person who could put an end to the arguments would be none other than...
"Chen-ge!" Li Xueyue cheerfully called out upon spotting him entering the house. Her eyes lit up at the sight of him as she rushed to greet him.
Li Chenyang's smile came out in a bittersweet grimace. Leave it to her to come out in such an opportune moment. He patted her on the cheek.
"You suddenly seem so eager to see me recently," Li Chenyang pointed out. "Is it that boring in the house?"
"Hm? Not really, I was occupied with writing letters in response to Yu Zhen's. Aren't I usually this energetic?" Li Xueyue asked with a tilt of her head.
"Father," she addressed with a smile.
Duke Li Shenyang nodded his head at her greeting. "Have you eaten lunch?"
"Yes, with Mother and Minghua," Li Xueyue responded.
Duke Li Shenyang raised a brow. He could tell it was half the truth. She most likely sat down for lunch, played with the food and ran back into her room. He held back a sigh. Would it always be like this? The conversation during last night's dinner still rang in his mind.
Both of his daughters possessed the means to destroy each other. It was a matter of how or when they'd do it.
Duke Li Shenyang figured he'd need to have a talk with his daughter, Minghua. The scroll wasn't found under her pillow in the Palace. Li Minghua, his own daughter, had lied to him. He was more than disappointed, but not surprised. She lied to him before, but he had trusted her too much to fathom such a thought to happen again.
"Well, you should get ready for dinner. It's likely to be ready soon," Duke Li Shenyang responded. He turned to his son and threw him a pointed look.
"If you'll excuse me, I will go bother your mother," Duke Li Shenyang said as he headed towards the gardens.
Li Xueyue watched his figure disappear down the hallways. She had been avoiding the gardens lately because the sight of hydrangeas upset her.
"Xueyue, why don't you take a walk with me? Near the gardens in the opposite direction to where Dad is heading towards."
"What for?" Li Xueyue asked as Chenyang began to walk. She quickly followed after him, knowing which side of the garden he was referring to. That part didn't have as much hydrangeas as the entrance, where Duchess Wang Qixing was always found.
"What do you think of Wuyi?" Li Chenyang questioned. He slipped off the indoor slippers for the outdoor ones when he stepped onto the stone pavement. He turned around to help her down the tiny stairs.
"Well, a new dynasty is starting here," Li Xueyue answered.
Li Xueyue glanced up at his serious expression and wondered what he could be telling her. Was he worried about something? She bit her bottom lip. Was there anything she could do to alleviate his stress?
Li Xueyue dropped her gaze to the ground where there were large stones leading to the other entrance of the garden. It would be far from their parents who would no doubt be reliving their younger days together.
"Yes, it will be very chaotic soon. There are still a handful of Ministers who object to our reign because the Second and Fourth Prince are still alive, despite how useless they are."
"I'm suspicious of the Second Prince," Li Xueyue suddenly said. "Wasn't Minghua kept secretly by his side? It's so strange that she had the opportunity to run up to Dad. Wouldn't the Second Prince have kept a close watch of her?"
Li Chenyang was bewildered by her words. Now that he thought about it… she was right. How exactly did Minghua escape the Second Prince's grasp? She said the Empress knew of a secret dark enough to ruin the Li Family. And since the Empress always vented out her frustrations to the Second Prince…wouldn't it mean the Second Prince knew of the secret as well?
"You're implying Minghua would betray our family," Li Chenyang murmured.
"No, I was just—"
"Don't panic so quickly," Li Chenyang reassured her. He came to a halt and turned to face her. "I'm on your side, Xueyue. I will always be."
"You weren't when I told you Minghua was alive," Li Xueyue whispered under her breath. "Your lack of trust really hurt."
"I'm sorry," Li Chenyang said. "It was such an unbelievable thing. I couldn't fathom it, not even in my wildest dreams."
Li Xueyue touched her neck and glanced to the side. "Have more faith in me."
"From now on, I will. I promise."
Li Xueyue wished people didn't make promises. They were meant to be broken. They always were.
"But I pointed out that implication because if you said it in front of the wrong people, it might cause problems. It sounded like Minghua was in cahoots with the Second Prince, our presumed enemy," Li Chenyang continued.
"It's a far-stretched idea, but seeing how much the Second Prince enjoys her presence, I wouldn't be surprised if it was true," Li Xueyue responded. Her voice was unwavering, and she meant everything she said.
Li Xueyue raised her head. "You said it yourself. The Second Prince has always favored Minghua even when they were children. He must've taken care of Minghua when she was a palace servant."
She pressed her lips together. "The Second Prince is very protective of Minghua. I have a feeling the Second Prince complained to the Emperor when Minghua was 'bullied' by me. As a result, I was punished."
Li Chenyang slowly nodded. He couldn't forget the fact that Xueyue was randomly summoned to the Palace on the day of the massacre. And then she randomly woke up in the Empress's bedroom? The coincidence was simply too much to ignore…
"I suppose you're right," Li Chenyang said. "I'll mention it to Father. We'll keep a lookout for the Second Prince. If we have to, we'll get rid of him."
Li Chenyang also suspected there was more to the Second Prince than what met the eyes.
"But besides that," Li Xueyue spoke up. "Why are you asking me about Wuyi? You were really strange this morning as well. Is there something you want to tell me?"
A harsh breeze unexpectedly whirled past them. Li Xueyue's hair flew to her face, irritating her eyes. She brushed strands of her hair back and peered up at him. When their gaze met, the corner of her lips quipped into a slight smile. She realized he had been watching her the entire time.
Li Chenyang couldn't look away from her. She seemed so feeble and small, he couldn't help but want to protect her.
Li Chenyang didn't want to burden those tiny shoulders of hers. What if the pressure and stress broke her? What if Hanjian's court politics was too much for her to handle?
Li Chenyang had finally gained a sister whose sincerity matched his. Xueyue had brightened his dull world. She had found a spot in his rigid heart.
The light in her eyes was blinding. What would happen when it fades? What would happen to a beacon of light when it steps into the shadows? Would she be swallowed by the darkness?
"Won't you stay by my side?" Li Chenyang whispered just as the wind picked up again.
"Hm, what was that?" Li Xueyue asked as she cupped her ears. She lifted her head to the sky and noticed the clouds had significantly darkened. Was it going to rain soon? It would explain the strong whirl of air coursing past them.
Li Xueyue's lips parted. For a split second there, she saw agony dance within his gaze. They said the eyes were the window to the soul. Then why did he seem so depressed?
"Would you like to go to Hanjian?" Li Chenyang abruptly asked her.
Li Xueyue rapidly blinked at his words. She didn't register it at first and thought the wind was playing tricks on her. But then she saw fear on his face, fear of losing her, fear of not seeing her—she knew she didn't mishear.
He had asked her if she wanted to go to Hanjian. The answer was yes, it always would be. So long as Yu Zhen was there, she'd go. Anywhere he was, she'd go—even to the ends of the earth.
Li Xueyue didn't believe it at first, but now she knew her fate didn't lie in Wuyi. It was in Hanjian, where her future seemed to shine so brightly that it blinded her. There was nothing left for her in Wuyi, except the Li Family. If she could lighten any burden for them by going to Hanjian, she would instantly take up that opportunity. The question was, what did they want her to do there?
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