283 Why Are You Running?
Li Xueyue turned around and saw the same thing: a tiny figure running off down the road. From the sway of the light-colored clothes, she concluded it was Li Minghua. She hoped the young woman had heard their conversation.
'I defended her. If Minghua has some conscience, she would know I'm not exactly against her, nor do I support her,' Li Xueyue thought to herself.
"I'll leave this horse in the stable," Li Chenyang said. "Once we get home from today's palace duties, you can give it to her, Dad."
Duke Li Shenyang slowly nodded. He watched the shadow of his daughter finally disappear into nothingness. "Time seems to go by much faster when we're not wilting in the Palace. Come now, Chenyang. We'll be late if we don't hurry."
Li Chenyang nodded.
Li Xueyue bid her brother and father farewell. She stared at their backs as they walked down the same road as Li Minghua. When she was all alone, she turned towards the stable door and decided to not keep Heiyue waiting for so long.
The stable boy bowed at the sight of her. He quickly stepped to the other end of the stable as the Young Miss opened the stable doors. No one else could get close to Heiyue except for the blacksmith who adjusted his metal horseshoe and the stable boy who tended it daily.
Heiyue would still behave like a wild horse without a Master. His impatience was hard to manage. The powerful horse showed no mercy to those he despised.
"Did you miss me?" Li Xueyue fondly asked as she patted the horse's combed mane. She smiled a bit when Heiyue snorted in response.
Li Xueyue revealed the sugar cube in her palm and placed it near his mouth. Heiyue instantly gobbled it up in loud crunches.
"Let's have some fun today," Li Xueyue said. She guided Heiyue out of the well-kept stables. There was always fresh hay and water laid out for her horse. Because of Heiyue's nutritious diet, his midnight coat of hair always gleamed under the sun.
Li Xueyue watched as the stable boy prepared the saddles. Once everything was set up, she guided the horse to the other side of the stable where the entrance leading to the field at the back of the manor was.
Li Xueyue slid onto her horse with ease and it didn't take long for them to run through the clearing. She let out a sigh of relief upon feeling the gentle caress of the sun on her back. Wind coursed through them, lifting her high ponytail. And eventually, they were nothing but a whirl of black.
- - - - -
They ran all the way to the forest, paused for a sip of water before returning home. By the time Li Xueyue returned from her ride, it was nighttime.
Stars danced upon the black canvas whilst mingling with the pale, white moon. The curtain of clouds was pulled back to reveal a stunning ray of moonlight that guided the lost dreamers.
Li Xueyue guided Heiyue into the stables as she wiped the sweat from her forehead. She appreciated the Li family's manor and everything it offered. The fields were always well-leveled, which made it easier for Heiyue to have his fun.
"Welcome home, Young Miss," the stable boy said with a deep bow.
"Thank you," Li Xueyue responded as she handed the rein to the stable boy who nervously took it, careful to not touch her. The stable boy didn't want to taint his Young Miss's hands. Despite his well-kept appearance, he couldn't help but feel dirty compared to the daughter of the house.
"We've run almost all day. Please feed him more than usual," Li Xueyue instructed as she patted Heiyue's mane.
Heiyue nudged at her shoulders, enjoying the caress that always came from nowhere.
Li Xueyue couldn't help but smile at his affectionate reactions. He was her only companion in this house. The only person that would forever be by her side.
"Has my father and brother returned home?" Li Xueyue asked the stable boy who had begun to take off the saddles.
The stable boy turned to face her and averted his gaze. "Yes, Young Miss. Master and the Second Young Master had just recently come home."
"Great," Li Xueyue said. She turned to Heiyue and gave him a final pat. "I'll see you soon," she murmured before walking out of the stables.
- - - - -
Li Xueyue initially wanted to greet Duke Li Shenyang and Li Chenyang as soon as she could, but decided to take a quick bath first. From the sweat she had accumulated, the clothes clung to her body. Thus, she headed to her room but paused upon seeing someone in the main hallway.
Li Xueyue quickly turned on her feet and began walking in the opposite direction. She'd just have to take the long way back to her room. Right now, she was too fatigued to deal with a spoiled brat.
"Why are you running from me?" Li Minghua shouted down the hallway.
She stared as Li Xueyue jumped from the loud sound. Li Xueyue's back was turned to her.
Li Xueyue picked up her footing and continued her merry way. She refused to have a conversation with Li Minghua at this time. The woman was crazy. Who knew what her next ploy was?
Li Minghua's lips curved down in disapproval. All she wanted to do was talk, that was all. She had no friends in this country, and her previous hobbies bored her. There was nothing she enjoyed doing in this house.
Li Minghua couldn't help but think back to Li Xueyue's words from this morning. Did Xueyue truly mean to defend her? Or was it all a ploy?
Because of this morning's conversation, Minghua had no choice but to be grateful for Xueyue's help. Perhaps the words of Xueyue would get through the stubborn Duke more than anyone else could.
Li Minghua helplessly watched as Li Xueyue turned a corner. Never once did she look back.
Li Minghua finally realized something. Despite all the problems she had caused, it seemed as if Li Xueyue had faith in her. Wasn't that the reason Xueyue kept her back unguarded?
"How puzzling," Li Minghua muttered to herself.
'Was Li Xueyue simply that naive? Or does she have blind trust in me?' Li Minghua wondered to herself.
She bit her bottom lip whilst glancing out of the open hallway. What greeted her was a small cluster of hydrangeas.
Li Minghua was surprised to see these flowers since the largest and prettiest ones were often found in the Duchess's gardens.
"I wonder why Mother likes hydrangeas so much…" Li Minghua thought out loud. She could vaguely remember asking her mother the question in her childhood. What exactly had the Duchess said? Li Minghua couldn't recall the exact reason except for a few keywords.
"Because hydrangeas bloom in a wonderful cluster that reminds us of the importance of family."
Li Minghua jumped upon hearing the sweet, tender voice of her mother. She turned around to see her kind mother standing there.
"I don't understand…" Li Minghua trailed off.
Duchess Wang Qixing smiled. "Hydrangeas are difficult to take care of. Without proper care, they won't bloom to their fullest. It reminds me of this family. Without a proper understanding of each other, we would never get along to the best of our abilities."
"Then what does a hydrangea have to do with me?" Li Minghua asked.
"Your fickle behavior mimics the flower. Every little thing can upset you, but when you have the attention you require, there is nothing more beautiful than your smile," Duchess Wang Qixing said.
Li Minghua blinked back her tears. Li Minghua couldn't love herself. She was scarred for life. There would be no one in this world who'd marry her. She could never make her family proud.