276 One Last Time
Once the court meeting was dismissed, Yu Zhen left without turning back.
Initially, Yu Zhen wanted to write Li Xueyue another letter, but couldn't decide if he should sneak to Wuyi or stay put in Hanjian. Why hasn't she responded to any of his letters? Did they even reach her? Shall he shoot the messenger?
Hu Dengxiao hurriedly ran after the Crown Prince. He let out a tiny shriek when the atmosphere around them turned deadly.
Even from afar, he could see Yu Zhen was simmering with dissatisfaction. What went wrong? Wasn't the outcome at court today exactly what the Crown Prince wanted. What was upsetting his Zhenzhen so much?
"Zhenzhen?" Hu Dengxiao spoke up once they were out of everyone's earshot.
Hu Dengxiao glanced around and noticed the only people with them were the guards. Some stood in plain sight whilst others hid in the shadows. Only the cream of the crop was allowed to guard the Crown Prince.
It was strange to see such a large palace so empty, but he supposed that was how Yu Zhen liked it. Besides, having too many ears around them was dangerous. Who's to say the servants weren't spies?
Hu Dengxiao also knew how much Yu Zhen despised being followed. It was the precise reason why he didn't allow servants and eunuchs to accompany him, even if they would be useful.
"Your Highness," Hu Dengxiao said upon realizing he was ignored the first time.
"Behead that useless messenger," Yu Zhen abruptly commanded.
"B-but…" Hu Dengxiao took a few steps back when the Crown Prince finally turned around, only to reveal a gaze brimming with rage and hatred.
"Why?" Hu Dengxiao asked, but his own question sounded foreign to him.
If his position hadn't changed from Strategist to Advisor, Hu Dengxiao wouldn't have questioned the Crown Prince's decision, but now he had no choice.
Hu Dengxiao had to be a fair and just advisor. He didn't want to condone Yu Zhen's tyrannical behavior… though it could be fun.
"I've sent out a few letters, and she hasn't responded to any of them," Yu Zhen gritted out.
Yu Zhen was unwilling to accept any other explanation except the failure of the messenger. Why else would she not reply?
Hu Dengxiao scratched the back of his neck as he pondered a response. It wasn't his expertise to be sympathetic towards others.
In reality, Hu Dengxiao wanted to readily agree to Yu Zhen's command. He truly wished Lu Tianbi was here. She would've offered the best advice that would prevent bloodshed. It was a shame she was stuck finalizing the peace treaty documents.
"Uhm, Your Highness, have you considered the fact that maybe the letters are withheld from her? You mentioned the Li family wanted time. I think the messenger did a sufficient job, since he'd always head out to deliver the letter the second you give it to him."
Yu Zhen narrowed his eyes. "Impossible. They wouldn't hide the letters, especially after accepting the political marriage suggestion. Xueyue's reputation in Hanjian will be elevated because of my words."
"Yes, that would be correct, Your Highness. However, the Prime Minister of Wuyi has been known for his cunning ways. What if he delayed giving the letters to Princess Li until you've made your decisions for the peace treaty clear?"
Yu Zhen pondered over the idea. It was a high possibility. The Prime Minister could've held onto the letters until it would become beneficial. He ground his teeth. What a frustrating father.
"Let's give Princess Li one more week to respond. If she doesn't, then we shall punish the messenger as you deem fit."
Yu Zhen's expression darkened. It was a good idea, but why should he spare the messenger's life? He could make a great example out of an incompetant servant.
Hu Dengxiao decided to quickly change the topic. Lu Tianbi would be furious if blood was spilled so quickly.
"You know, Zhenzhen," Hu Dengxiao spoke up. "Princess Li is guarded like a national treasure in Wuyi. Everything about her past is hidden"
Yu Zhen wasn't surprised. Her illegitimate status would surely stain her reputation. He believed her story better than anyone else, but that didn't mean other people would be so kind. Quite frankly, he didn't care about outsiders' opinions.
At the end of the day, Yu Zhen could always silence them.
Seeing as Yu Zhen wasn't opposed to the new topic about Li Xueyue, Hu Dengxiao quickly began talking more.
"I researched about her and discovered something odd," Hu Dengxiao said. "Her public debut to high society was made only two and a half years ago. If we consider her age, it's a strange decision. Most girls would've made their debut at the age of thirteen."
Hu Dengxiao wanted to give a longer reply, but he decided to get straight to the point.
Hu Dengxiao shrugged. "It feels like they're hiding a secret or something. Wouldn't a family as prominent as the Lis want her to be seen earlier than most?"
Yu Zhen raised a brow.
"I mean, if I have a daughter as intelligent and talented as her, I'd readily show her off, but they didn't do so. It makes me wonder…. Is she really the Li family's daughter?" Hu Dengxiao asked.
"My Wangfei's background has nothing to do with you," Yu Zhen deadpanned in a frigid tone. He left little to no room for arguments.
Yu Zhen vowed to take Li Xueyue's secrets to the grave. He would kill anyone who dared to reveal her illegitimate status. Anyone who had the guts to stain her reputation didn't need organs in the first place.
Hu Dengxiao fiddled with his fingers. He had changed the atmosphere for the worst… He silently pouted to himself.
"Zhenzhen, don't get mad so quickly. I'll make sure no one else looks into her background, okay? If anyone speaks about her late debut, I'll tell them the excuse that the Li family is just overprotective of their daughter."
Yu Zhen nodded in satisfaction. "Lu Tianbi is taking a while," he stated. "Go help her."
Hu Dengxiao's glum expression morphed into pure excitement. His face lit up as a grin spread upon his lips. "Do you really mean it, Your Highness? I can go see Tiantian?"
Yu Zhen responded by flicking his wrist, almost as if he was shooing away a loyal dog. Hu Dengxiao might as well have been wagging his tail. There was so much joy brimming from that man, it was contagious.
"You're so nice today, Your Highness. This is why I love you so much, Zhenzhen!" Hu Dengxiao exclaimed. He hurriedly bowed and excused himself.
Yu Zhen watched as the puppy bounced down the hallway, eager to join his beloved.
Yu Zhen's mood soured at the thought of the two lovebirds together. He never thought it would be possible but for the first time in his life, he felt lonely.
Yu Zhen desperately wanted to see Li Xueyue. A simple smile from her was enough for him to feel energized. Whenever she laughed, he couldn't help but smile. How was it possible that she brought him so much joy? It should be illegal for her to be so endearing.
Yu Zhen let out a quiet sigh. He wanted to see her one last time before he left Wuyi then.
He regretted sending Hu Dengxiao to the Li Manor. He had no choice. It was that or they would be delayed in getting home.
The Crown Prince title would've been handed to the First Prince if it wasn't for Yu Zhen's abrupt entrance at the last minute.
"Must you collapse at such a horrible time?" Yu Zhen muttered as he turned on his heel and began to head in the direction of the Emperor's residence. The hallways were quiet and still as usual. A palace of gold and no one was here to admire it.