Dinner went by quickly.
Li Xueyue had eaten a bit more than she did in the past few days; however, it couldn't compare to how much she could eat in the past.
The only reason she ate more that night was because the twins wouldn't stop piling food into her bowl. It was as if they were forcing her to eat. Everyone watched her like a hawk, making sure she was eating well.
Li Xueyue had no choice but to eat it all. Once dinner concluded, she slipped the Duke a little note to be delivered by the messenger dove to Hanjian.
"Another uneventful day," Li Xueyue said to herself once she was in her room. She had nothing to do but wait for the herbal tonic to finish boiling. She sighed to herself, knowing the bitter drink was too dreadful for her to consume.
Li Xueyue approached the vanity and unlocked a drawer. She pulled out the small vial of sleep-inducing medicine that she had requested from the doctor and examined it. She was sure the doctor knew of her plans. This wasn't a simple sleep-inducing medicine.
"I just hope I'd never have to use it on someone else," Li Xueyue said before slipping the item back into the drawer, but something else caught her eyes. Yu Zhen's pendant. It was directly beside hers.
Li Xueyue couldn't help but muse at the idea. She could've sworn Hanjian didn't have the same tradition of giving pendants to loved ones, but she supposed the act of doing so was still as significant.
Li Xueyue wondered if there would ever be a day she'd have to use Yu Zhen's pendant to protect herself. She hoped and prayed that day would never come, for it meant the danger was simply too peril for her to handle by herself…
- - - - -
The next few days went by smoothly. Without Xueyue knowing it, the day of her supposed departure to Hanjian was tomorrow morning.
Li Xueyue paced back and forth in her room. Did the messenger dove get lost? She hadn't received a single word from Yu Zhen in regard to the matter of delaying her departure to Hanjian.
The storm had finally passed for the Li Family. This morning, the family had sent out orders for the capital's announcement board near the town hall to be updated.
Heinous deeds of the Royal family were revealed to the entire country, from servant abuse to private funds leaking to foreign countries, not a single crime was spared.
As a result, the Second and Fourth Prince's claim on the throne was rescinded. Even if they tried to, no one would support them. The Second Prince was too sickly in the first place, and the Fourth Prince was so badly wounded, he was unable to wake up from his unconsciousness.
But all of this still didn't put Li Xueyue's mind at rest.
"I must go to Hanjian in case they speak up against the Li family's reign on the throne… but Yu Zhen hasn't given me his word. What do to..." she trailed off.
She stopped pacing upon hearing a knock on the door. She turned towards it and called out, "Come in."
The doors were pushed open by the servants and Duke Li Shenyang stepped inside. His attention went directly to her.
"You seemed burdened by something, Xueyue," Duke Li Shenyang pointed out when he noticed Xueyue's posture.
With her left arm slung across her stomach, her right elbow rested on her left hand while her right hand touched her chin.What was she thinking about? Her posture reminded him of Chenyang when he was stressed out.
Li Xueyue dropped her hands. "I was just worried because it's been days and I've not heard from Yu Zhen. It seems the tables have turned, and now I'm forced to ponder whether my message was successfully delivered or not."
Duke Li Shenyang let out a hearty laugh at her words. If he was in her shoes, he'd worry as well.
"He's a petty man. Just as you made him wait for your letters, he took his sweet time in sending the messenger dove back," Duke Li Shenyang said.
Li Xueyue straightened up at the Duke's words. Hope filled her. Didn't that mean Yu Zhen did respond?
Duke Li Shenyang's smile grew wide at her behavior. It seemed she was eager to see Yu Zhen. He had never seen so much joy in her eyes unless they spoke of Yu Zhen.
"It's just as you predicted," Duke Li Shenyang said. He approached her and stretched out his hand to reveal a small slip of parchment in his palm. "He has finally replied."
"May I?" Li Xueyue asked as she pointed a finger at his open palm.
Duke Li Shenyang nodded. He found it interesting that she was still so polite, despite the years she had spent with them. His smile slipped a bit upon remembering what caused her to be so courteous in the first place.
Li Xueyue took the note from her father's hand. She noticed the Duke had respected her privacy. The small piece of parchment hadn't been unraveled at all. She unrolled it and read the message.
'Only because you asked.'
Li Xueyue tilted her head. Was this a yes? Or a no?
"What did he say?" Duke Li Shenyang asked.
Li Xueyue held up the note for him to read. He squinted a bit and frowned.
"Well, that is a vague answer. As expected of a petty boy," Duke Li Shenyang said and chuckled. "I suppose we can take that as a yes. You can delay your departure to Hanjian."
"Truly?" Li Xueyue asked with a small gasp. Wouldn't that mean she would be there to witness the crowning of Duke Li Shenyang as the new Emperor of Wuyi?
Duke Li Shenyang nodded. "Even if the Ministers of Hanjian were to object, I will just blame it on their Prince's stupid response."
Li Xueyue chuckled at her father's subtle jabs at Yu Zhen. Leave it to her father to have the guts to insult a Crown Prince. "When will the coronation be?"
"Very soon. In less than a week," Duke Li Shenyang responded. "Your mother ordered custom-made clothes for you to wear for that day. The Qun Kwa  for your wedding has also been ordered."
Li Xueyue blushed at his words. Everything that had fallen apart was falling into place. She couldn't believe how much had happened this year. Just the thought of getting married was simply too surreal for her.
"You've done well, my dear," Duke Li Shenyang fondly said. Never would he have imagined the youngest in the family would be the first to get married.
"Thank you…" Li Xueyue timidly responded. Even until now, she didn't know how to react to compliments.
"You've made me very proud of you, Xueyue," Duke Li Shenyang added on. "I anticipate great things from you."
"I won't let you down, Father."
"You never have, and never will," Duke Li Shenyang said. He placed a fond hand upon her shoulder. "Do not burden yourself with the thought of becoming a disappointment to us. No matter what happens in Hanjian, the Li family will always be on your side."
Li Xueyue didn't know the Duke was aware of her sentiments. How did he know she was terrified of disappointing the family that has given her everything when she had nothing to give back?
"Even if there are enough crimes to dye your sleeves bright red, the Li family will not mind. You're our daughter and we will always protect you. If there is someone that dares to make a fool out of you, then make sure you turn them into the town's laughing stock."
Li Xueyue's lips parted at these words. Was he giving her permission to act out? Or was he implying the future would be dangerous? She supposed it was both.
"But that doesn't mean you shouldn't take our family name into consideration. Without a doubt, I know you will. Thus, I am not worried about your actions. You've always been a wise young lady," Duke Li Shenyang added on.
The corner of his lips settled into a warm smile. Duke Li Shenyang wondered when was the exact moment he began to cherish her.
Was it when he discovered her battered body in the forest? Was it the first time he laid eyes on her? Was it the time he looked out the window to see her teaching the twins?
She had done so much of the Li Family without even knowing it.
If there was one thing that he was certain of, it was that Li Xueyue had never once disappointed him. He trusted she would never do so, at least, not in this lifetime.
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