"Well, you girls stay in here and finish the embroidery ring. I will prepare my special tea and bring it in," Duchess Wang Qixing said as she glanced over at her daughters. She hoped this abrupt alone time would force them to bond—something that might never happen if an opportunity wasn't created for them.
Li Xueyue rapidly blinked at the Duchess's obvious schemes. Usually, her mother would call for a servant to boil water whilst she took out her large box of ingredients to brew tea.
But very well. If that was what Duchess Wang Qixing wanted to do, Xueyue wouldn't stop her mother.
'Besides, I doubt Minghua would still have the guts to hurt me when no one is watching,' she thought to herself.
"What flavor would it be?" Li Xueyue asked when Duchess Wang Qixing rose to her feet.
"It's a secret," Duchess Wang Qixing responded with a wink. She reached over and pinched Xueyue's cheek before affectionately patting Minghua's upper back.
"It won't take too long," Duchess Wang Qixing added on.
"I like sweeter teas," Li Minghua spoke up whilst grabbing her mother's hand. "Please?"
Duchess Wang Qixing felt her heart being squeezed by her daughter's endearing expression. It must've been a while since Minghua had high-quality tea. Oh, poor thing. What horrid things has Minghua tasted in the Palace?
"Of course, my Little Flower. I will make it to everyone's liking. Don't fret," Duchess Wang Qixing said. She gave her daughter a last caress on the upper back before exiting the room.
Li Xueyue's attention landed upon Jingxia, the Head Maidservant. She was so quiet and still that Xueyue had nearly forgotten her presence in the room. Jingxia stood by the door with her head bowed, but ears perked up.
An amused smile fell upon Li Xueyue's lips. It seemed no one in the family trusted the two of them to be alone. It was a shame they had missed witnessing their previous encounters.
"I'm glad you're leaving for Hanjian shortly after the coronation," Li Minghua spoke up. She pulled at the needles whilst marveling at her design. It was a sun setting across a sword and shield. There was a name engraved onto the shield, but she'd never tell whose it was.
"It'd be my utter delight to not see your face anymore," Li Xueyue retorted. She played with the threads of her embroidery ring and the abandoned handkerchief.
Li Xueyue was glad she had chosen a poorer quality material for her practice. If not, precious silk would've gone to waste, even if she still had rolls of silk that the late Emperor had gifted her left unused.
How irritating for her expertise to all be in things that didn't fit her image as a noble and third-rank Princess. Li Xueyue sometimes wished she entertained feminine hobbies like penmanship, poetry, art, music, or even instruments. She chose the sword over the brush, martial arts over dancing, and so forth.
���That's not what I meant, but I suppose the feeling is mutual," Li Minghua responded. Her attention remained upon the embroidery ring. If she'd like, she could make a remark about Xueyue's utter lack of skills in embroidery, but she held her tongue.
Li Xueyue was too lazy to respond. She lazily twirled the threads across her fingers.
There was an interesting book she had read about knots. Some could be tied with threads to suffocate a person to death and make it look like an accident. She practiced the design with her fingertips, wondering if such a thing was even possible. Surely, it had to be if it was written in a book?
"I don't think Wang Jing or Wang Longhe will be able to show up at the coronation, but shortly afterward, they will show their faces. That is when the real problem will ensue, but you will be safe and sound in Hanjian," Li Minghua said.
Li Xueyue raised her head from the design she had swirled with her fingers. "My life in Hanjian might seem blissful on the surface, but most likely, I would have to tread through political schemes. One after the other."
"If that esteemed Commander of yours truly loved you, he'd keep you far away from it. Honestly, making you the Empress of a foreign country has placed many targets on your head—in and out of Hanjian."
Li Xueyue blinked. "I'd rather not be kept in the dark like an ignorant fool, but to each our own."
"I learned," Li Minghua spat out. "Why are you deliberately attacking me when I'm trying to make peace and have a decent conversation here?"
Li Xueyue's eyes never left her design. "Because the entire time we've been talking, our attention was never on each other. Isn't this mindless small talk?"
Li Minghua's gaze instantly shot up. "The same thing could be said about you!"
"And besides, an apology or two won't be enough to make amends," Li Xueyue said. She held up the intricate knots above her head. How could someone fit a head through that large hole? Hmm… What did the book say about traps again?
Li Minghua bit her bottom lip. "Well, consider yourself lucky that I won't be saying it more than once. Whether you like me or not, I hardly care."
"Good for you," Li Xueyue said as she slipped the design off of her fingers. She yanked the threads together until everything was knotted and tangled. She didn't need anyone finding this lying around.
Li Minghua should've been even more aggravated by Xueyue's behavior, but strangely enough, she wasn't. She blamed it on how calm and collected Xueyue was. Poised but sharp, it was everything the Li Family wanted their daughter to be. She bit her bottom lip.
"Will you teach me?" Li Minghua asked.
At this, Li Xueyue finally raised her head. She found Minghua's attention was solely on her now. It must've been hard for this arrogant Young Miss to swallow her pride.
"On what?" Li Xueyue questioned.
Li Minghua awkwardly glanced away. She placed her finished embroidery ring down. "The art of sharpening my tongue until it becomes a weapon."
"I'd hardly call mine something so lethal, but I can teach you to control yourself," Li Xueyue said. "For wistful responses, you should enlist your father on that. He's an expert in such things."
Li Xueyue loathed Li Minghua, but it wasn't to the extent where she would wish for Minghua and the Duke to continue to have a strained relationship. She wanted them to have more bonding experiences. It'd warm her heart to see the Duke happy, even if it was with Minghua.
"I want to learn it quickly," Li Minghua added on. "You would leave so soon and—"
"Don't worry, the tactic is quite simple, though it takes practice," Li Xueyue explained. "Are you up for the challenge?"
"Of course I am," Li Minghua said. "Why else would I throw away my dignity to ask you for help?"
Li Xueyue properly examined Li Minghua. Was that… a light blush of embarrassment? She smiled at this. For a brief second, Xueyue had seen Minghua's charm, though it was only momentarily. Was this what Wen Jinkai saw in her?
"When you're angered by something," Li Xueyue began. "You have to remain calm. Don't yell or raise your voice during an argument. Men love to roar like a lion, but when we do the same, we're deemed as overly emotional. How disgusting is that?"
Li Minghua blinked. Now that she thought about it… Men were said to be more passionate when they raised their voice, but when a woman does it? She's crazy and a cry baby.
"The angrier you are, the more motivated you should be to control the situation. Don't let people see through your frigid expression. Don't let anyone in, and if you do, never let them out."
Li Minghua never thought of it as that way before. She thought showing her displeasure would make the other person panic. After all, they had offended the daughter of the Prime Minister. Shouldn't they be shaking in their shoes?
There was so much more that Li Xueyue knew, but decided to not reveal. If Minghua wanted to know her tricks, then she'd have to earn it. What would happen when the pupil beats the master?
Li Xueyue held back her other words of wisdom. She didn't want to groom the cat into a tiger. "That is all for today, but I'm sure you can learn more from our family."
Li Minghua rapidly nodded. "I-I… uhm…" She nervously averted her gaze again. Her fingers fiddled with a random thread nearby. She rolled it into a ball with her fingers, hoping it'd distract her.
"I have all day to wait for words of gratitude," Li Xueyue said. She leaned back into her chair and stretched. She even let out a yawn to show her ease.
"Uhm…" Li Minghua trailed off as she continued to play with the thread.
"Hmmmm," Li Xueyue hummed a song whilst lazily tapping her fingers on the table. She was humming off tune but didn't care.
Li Xueyue leaned her cheek upon a propped up arm. Her other hand poked the pile of the tangled thread she had made. Seeing Minghua struggle to utter words of appreciation was simply too entertaining.
"...Thank...you…" Li Minghua finally mumbled out. She felt like a weight was lifted off of her shoulders and chest.
"Your not that welcome, but sure," Li Xueyue joked. "Oh, I smell something pleasant." She sniffed the air just as the doors were pushed open to reveal the Duchess.
Li Minghua blinked multiple times. Her face was red with embarrassment. She hid it behind her hand and glanced away. Why was it so hard to say 'thank you'? It must've been her lack of practice.
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