300 Difficult to Forgive
Days trickled by, and soon, the day of Li Xueyue's departure arrived.
Li Xueyue told herself she wouldn't cry, even when the servants packed her belongings, and she watched as Heiyue was led towards the carriage.
Standing by the entrance of the Imperial Palace, she held her chin high and set her eyes forward.
Li Xueyue told herself that if she cried, then so would the Li Family. But the problem was, Empress Wang Qixing was already in tears. She sniffled and wiped every droplet with a handkerchief.
"Oh darling, please write to us," Empress Wang Qixing exclaimed. She rushed to her daughter and ignored all sorts of etiquettes. Reaching forward, she pulled Xueyue into a hug.
"Of course, Mother," Li Xueyue managed to squeeze out a few words. Seeing her mother in tears like this hurt her more than anything.
"Xiao Yue, make sure to eat at least five meals a day when you get to Hanjian," Li Wenmin stated when his mother pulled back, only for him to come and hug her.
Li Xueyue laughed at his words, though it sounded broken and distorted as her throat tightened.
It was difficult to hold back her tears when the mood was so somber. She glanced up at the sky where the sun's bright rays were hidden behind thick curtains of clouds.
"Xueyue," Emperor Li Shenyang addressed when his son released her. "It will be wise to understand that anyone who stands your way shouldn't remain standing any longer."
Li Xueyue nodded at his words, but deep down she had some doubts. After that night where her hands were tainted with blood, she wasn't sure if she could ever do it again. The emotions she felt that night could never be forgotten.
"Father, I want to ask you something in secret," Li Xueyue whispered. He raised a brow at her words, but gestured for her to take a few steps aside. They took a short walk towards the palace walls where no one could disturb them.
The family gave them their much-needed privacy.
"Are you having last minute hesitations?" Emperor Li Shenyang asked.
Li Xueyue shook her head. "I've been meaning to ask, but did you know of my existence prior to meeting me?"
"No," he responded. "Why do you ask?"
"You used to threaten Li Taojun with a secret that'd ruin his reputation," Li Xueyue began. "Do you remember what it is?"
In all honesty, there were many secrets that Emperor Li Shenyang had used as blackmail. He couldn't remember all of them.
"Which one are you referring to?"
"Father, take a good look at me," Li Xueyue instructed. "Isn't it strange that I resemble the Li family by the slightest bit?"
The Emperor's eyes widened. He was wise enough to know what she was implying. He pieced two and two together.
Emperor Li Shenyang was rarely surprised by anything in life. He had always predict things before it happened. But this? Never in a million years would he think this would be possible.
"It's exactly as you think," Li Xueyue said. "I am indeed, Duke Li Taojun's only daughter. The one you threatened him with."
Emperor Li Shenyang had never felt so much more regret than this moment. He was well-aware of her horrific past. Guilt threatened to eat him alive. He had indirectly hurted Xueyue. It was unintentional, but his actions led to the horrific fate of a child.
"Xueyue, I'm so sorry, I didn't think it--" he paused. What could he say and do to amend the past? At that time, he had never met Xueyue. It was a difficult situation.
"I know what you're thinking," she said. "Perhaps if you hadn't threatened Li Taojun, then I wouldn't have lived through such an abusive childhood."
Li Xueyue presented him with a gentle smile. "But nothing we say or do can change the past. Looking backwards will never take us forward."
She grasped his weathered hands. "I think we can safely say your redemption was the kindness our family has shown me. You took me and offered me an opportunity I could never fathom."
Emperor Li Shenyang was overcome with emotions. He had always known she was a mature young woman. But he had forgotten how wise she was. Her words deeply touched him.
"Though," she added on, "I'm still bitter at your actions. It will be difficult to forgive you, but time will heal me. At least… I hope it does."
"And it shall," he firmly said, revealing a fond, gentle smile for her.
- - - - -
No one asked them any questions about the private conversation. They pretended it didn't happen and things proceeded as usual.
"And remember, Yueyue," Li Chenyang remarked whilst grabbing her elbow. "The Li family can afford to offend everyone and anyone."
Li Xueyue rapidly blinked at his statement. It was true. She had learned it many times before.
Li Chenyang gently smiled whilst releasing her elbows. "Write to me, even when you're not in danger. Small talks are better than no talks."
Li Xueyue's lips curled into a grin. "Of course, Chen-ge."
The sound of a horse neighing caught her attention. She turned her chin and saw the carriages. There was a small one in the front, a medium one in the middle accompanied by a mediocre-sized one. Soldiers on horses surrounded the carriages.
"It's finally happening, isn't it?" Li Minghua spoke up. She touched Xueyue's shoulders and glanced at the comfortably dressed sibling. "Smart of you not to wear fancy attire. The ride would be dreadful if you were."
"I sure won't miss your remarks," Li Xueyue mused with a raise of her brow.
Li Minghua revealed a small smile and brushed the strands of hair behind her ears. "Someone has to uplift the mood, don't they?"
"Perhaps so," Li Xueyue responded in a quiet voice. She examined the carriages a bit longer and realized there would be one or two maidservants accompanying her.
"Where did Heiyue go?" Li Xueyue asked. It would be difficult to not notice her midnight black horse amongst the hues of brown, yellow, and white.
Her mother was the first to speak up. "Heiyue was very…" she struggled to find the right words.
"Rough," the Emperor stated. "The handlers attempted to have him ride at the front with the other horses, but it seems Heiyue will accept no other rider but you."
Her father jutted his chin towards the back of the carriage where a black horse was resisting the person tying his reins. "A wild one."
Li Xueyue chuckled. "I always forget he has a bad temperament."
Emperor Li Shenyang laughed at her words. He was sure the stable boys would always remember the rebellious horse, even when it was gone.
"I think he'd ride better if he was by my side," Li Xueyue stated. "If you could tie him to the center carriage, he would prefer that."
Emperor Li Shenyang nodded. "Very well," he responded. He waved his hand and the Eunuchs accompanying him quickly approached the handler. Words were exchanged, and hesitation was written on the man's face. It didn't take long for Heiyue's reins to be guided towards the center carriage, but the stubborn animal bit and neighed in protest.
"I'll do it," Li Xueyue spoke up.
"Princess…" the handler worriedly addressed her. His heart trembled at the thought of her getting trampled by this violent horse. Who would've thought such a well-mannered girl would be in charge of such a wild thing?
"You're such a spoiled brat," Li Xueyue started when Heiyue continued to throw his head against the tug of the reins. He didn't realize it was her who was handling him. He could hear her voice, but couldn't see her.
"There, there, you baby." Li Xueyue patted his silky mane and Heiyue whined in response.
Heiyue stomped the ground, but relaxed at her gentle touch.
She quietly and efficiently guided him near her carriage.
Li Xueyue didn't know where to tie his reins until finally spotting a hook to wrap the leather around. She quickly did so in a matter of seconds. It seemed the book of knots came in handy.
Li Xueyue was so heavily focused on Heiyue, she didn't realize everyone had been watching her. She turned around, only to be met with a long silence.
"What is it?" Li Xueyue questioned.
She flushed upon seeing an astonished expression on the servants and soldiers. Her family was proud of her, especially Li Wenmin who was the first to say something.
"And here I was, worried that you won't fit in Hanjian," Li Wenmin exclaimed. "I didn't think you'd look so elegant when tying a horse, Xiao Yue!"
"No, no, Heiyue was just well-behaved at that moment," Li Xueyue humbly said. She shyly smiled when he patted her cheek.
Li Chenyang didn't think he would be so relieved by his older brother's words.
Truth to be told, he, too, was terrified of Xueyue's wellbeing in Hanjian. But seeing her expertly handling the horse, he knew there wasn't a need to be such a worrywart.
Hanjian valued capable women such as Li Xueyue. It would certainly explain their high population of female soldiers, and some were even Generals. If he remembered correctly… there was a female Commander of Hanjian.
"There's no need to be so humble with us, sweetheart," Empress Wang Qixing stated. She warmly grabbed her daughter's hand and squeezed it.
Li Xueyue merely smiled in response. She was surprised when she heard the quiet murmurs of… a dove?
"Father, is that—"
"A messenger dove," Emperor Li Shenyang stated. "It was a hassle to train this specific one, but she is young and will do the job fast."
Li Xueyue's lips parted in shock. "Thank you, I don't know what to say…"
"Say nothing and accept this gift of mine," Emperor Li Shenyang said. He handed the caged bird to her to which she gratefully accepted with two hands.
"If there is ever an issue, I want you to write to me as soon as possible," he said. "I will not hesitate to send the entire Li army to Hanjian shall an issue arise."
Li Xueyue could say nothing, but she spoke it through her actions. She settled the cage down and warmly embraced him, the first time in the years she had known him. Everyone was caught off-guard, even the man himself. He revealed a hearty chuckle and patted her upper back.
"You will do well in Hanjian, I just know it, my dear child."