289 No One Will Take You From Me
Li Chenyang reached out to her and caressed the back of her head. She blinked up at him in surprise, perplexed by his behavior.
"When you're in Hanjian, you'll write to me, right?" Li Chenyang questioned, though it came out as a soft command.
Li Xueyue tilted her head. His voice was gentle, but his words sounded threatening.
"Of course," Li Xueyue mused with a tiny smile. He seemed hesitant over her answer as if he found it difficult to believe she would. She saw the crease of his brows.
'Was it what I said earlier? About hurting Minghua if she hurt me? I thought Chen-ge would be used to this by now…' she thought to herself.
"You have to be careful of what you share," Li Chenyang said. He retracted his hand from her head and presented a wry smile. "If the wrong ears catch wind of it, your tongue won't be the only thing cut off."
Li Xueyue's initial suspicions were confirmed. He had been disgruntled by her words. Then again, Chenyang always loved to nag.
"I know that, Chen-ge. I said that to put your heart at ease, but I didn't think it would rile you up like this," Li Xueyue responded.
"I'm not angered by your words," Li Chenyang said. "I'm just worried about you."
Li Xueyue nodded in understanding. "We should head back to our rooms now." She slipped his shawl off her shoulders and wrapped it around him.
"You won't tell me about your nightmare?" Li Chenyang tried one last time, hoping she'd reveal much more to him.
Li Xueyue shook her head. She refused to speak about that night. She was too ashamed that she did not fight back. There was no cure to her wounded soul. Perhaps time would heal it. It usually did.
"Alright then," Li Chenyang softly said. "I won't press on."
Li Xueyue was grateful that he didn't attempt to pry further. He was always good at reading people. She wondered if it was a learned skill or something he was forced to pick up on. Brushing those thoughts away, she raised her head and quirked a smile.
"Good night, Chen-ge," Li Xueyue said.
"Sleep well," Li Chenyang bid.
Li Chenyang watched her protectively as she walked down the hallways. Even when she was out of sight, he continued to look in that direction, in case something went wrong. He was fearful to hear a scream in the dead of the night.
Luckily, there was none. She seemed to have gotten back into her room without any disruptions. Nonetheless, Li Chenyang headed down the path leading to her bedroom. He didn't mean to follow her but did so. In the far distance, he saw her figure entering her bedroom.
Deeming that she was safe and sound, Li Chenyang finally turned around and walked back to his bedroom. It was an uneventful night, but he was grateful to have gotten her word. Hearing that she'd write to him placed his mind at ease.
- - - - -
The days passed by without qualms. Everything went by smoothly, so much so, that it was unnerving. It felt like the calm before a storm, but only Li Xueyue felt that way.
The sinful deeds and crimes committed by the Royal family had come to light. Even when they resided in their graves, the Emperor and Empress were cursed upon. The citizens' disgruntled reactions made it a lot easier for the Li Family to swoop in as their savior.
By tradition, whenever an Emperor or Empress died, there would be weeks of mourning. Yet, the Wang Family's mourning lasted less than a week.
"Are you excited?" Duchess Wang Qixing asked whilst keeping her eyes trained upon the embroidery ring in her hand.
Li Xueyue winced upon pricking her finger yet again. Her lines were tangled, and the colors didn't match. She wanted to give up on this task, but everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, Li Minghua included.
"About what, Mother?" Li Minghua muttered as she yanked at the needle.
Li Xueyue pressed her lips together and finally decided to place the embroidery ring down. It was going nowhere. The design was nothing but a blob of colors that were supposed to resemble chrysanthemum flowers.
She squirmed in her chair. This room was stifling and awkward. When Duchess Wang Qixing had invited her this morning, Li Xueyue thought it would be just the two of them. Turns out, it was a forced playdate.
"The coronation of your father," Duchess Wang Qixing responded. She lifted her head and examined her design with a pleasant smile. It would make a great handkerchief for Xueyue.
Li Xueyue thought about the Duke's coronation. By tradition, he would be wearing the fanciest of attires, with the country's symbol designed into the clothes. He'd climb the long staircase leading to the entrance of the Palace. Each and every Minister would kowtow until their foreheads touched the ground.
"What's there to be excited about?" Li Minghua asked. "It's literally just walking up a couple of staircases and having everyone acknowledge your presence. After Father goes up those steps, you will follow suit, and then it'll be the twins. Me and Xueyue will be last."
Li Xueyue raised a brow. She disagreed with Minghua's initial statement. "It's a momentous event for the entire family. The day of the coronation marks the official beginning of the Li Dynasty."
Li Minghua pressed her lips together. So what? It wasn't like she would be on the throne.
"You and I won't even touch the throne because of our gender," Minghua said. "Only Mother and Father will be seated upon the throne. We'll probably be on the sidelines, in a much smaller chair."
"It's still an important day," Li Xueyue pointed out. "Though, it'll feel strange to have so many eyes upon you."
Li Xueyue found it interesting that they were actually having a conversation. So far, insults hadn't been thrown. She hoped it would remain that way. Or else, the Duchess would reprimand them for hours.
Duchess Wang Qixing settled the embroidery ring down. The design was finished. All she had to do was detach the ring from the soft silk.
"It will be nerve-wracking," Duchess Wang Qixing said. "But it will be a day that each and every one of us will remember, for the rest of our lives."
Li Minghua fiddled with her embroidery ring. She had drawn a design but was perplexed by the final result. The colors... were all of Wen Jinkai's favorite.
"Don't you think it's strange, Mother? The Second and Fourth Prince are still alive, yet the citizens and Ministers chose the Li family," Li Minghua said.
Duchess Wang Qixing nodded. "Well, it's known across the entire kingdom that the Second Prince is sickly. No one wants a ruler who would die so soon."
She turned to her daughters. "The Fourth Prince is too injured and remains in a coma. After the Emperor and Empress's crimes were revealed, no one wants to support the Wang family anymore."
"What if…" Li Minghua trailed off. "The Second Prince has recovered from his illness?"
Duchess Wang Qixing's gaze snapped to her daughter. "Are you sure?"
Li Xueyue stiffened at the thought of the Second Prince. Now that Minghua had mentioned it… On both occasions, the Second Prince was nothing like how the rumors depicted him to be. He was pale, but he behaved like a regular man.
Li Minghua reluctantly nodded her head. "I was by Wang Jing's side for the longest time, yet there was never medicine served to him. Of course, there were tonics brewed to boost his health, but that was all."
Duchess Wang Qixing's expression darkened. "Then that meant his illness was cured. We must tell your father about this immediately."
Li Minghua gulped. She had betrayed the Second Prince just now. No one knew of his impeccable state, except for her. "Mother, if anything was to happen, everyone will protect me, won't they?"
Duchess Wang Qixing was perplexed by her daughter's behavior. She stood up and approached Minghua. "Of course, my Little Flower. As long as you're within these walls, no one will dare to harm you."
"Even if soldiers storm this place?" Li Minghua whispered.
"Especially if soldiers were to come here," Duchess Wang Qixing firmly said. "As long as I am alive, no one will take you from me, ever again."
Li Xueyue silently stared at Duchess Wang Qixing and Li Minghua. Duchess Wang Qixing had wrapped a protective arm around her daughter.
Li Xueyue wondered what type of danger would even come Li Minghua's way. What would be so terrifying for the bold and daring Minghua to behave like this?