Li Xueyue boarded the carriage with the help of her older brothers. She couldn't stop blushing in embarrassment when they bickered their way to the steps, only to come to a compromise. She wanted to hide her face when walking up the steps with one brother at each hand.
The family bid their farewells to her as the carriage started moving. They settled on not saying goodbyes, for there was nothing good in departures.
Instead, the Li Family decided to bid her off with "See you soon."
The tears that Li Xueyue had held back finally began to pour out. She cried in her carriage all by herself, whilst lulled by the sound of turning wheels.
When she glanced out her window, she was greeted by the trees slipping by. This, however, wasn't what caught her eye.
It was the man on a horse who came to a slow run as he cupped his mouth.
"Tell that stubborn Commander, I said hello!" he shouted.
Li Xueyue let out a laugh of disbelief at the audacity of this man. Wen Jinkai was riding his horse to match her carriage's speed just to see her one last time. She shook her head at his foolishness.
She leaned out of the window and called out, "Both of you are the most hard-headed men I've ever met!"
Wen Jinkai smiled at this. Even during their last encounter with each other, she still felt that way about him. He could only raise his hand into the air and wave.
Li Xueyue waved him goodbye, knowing this would be the last time she would see him for a while.
The next time they crossed paths… she hoped he would've started a family by then. And that his children would be friends with her brothers' kids. Perhaps that way, the twins wouldn't hate him so much.
Li Xueyue craned her neck out of the window to see his figure grow smaller in the distance. She continued to look out the window as if memorizing each and every feature of the Capital.
- - - - -
Li Xueyue had known the carriage ride would take a while. She was prepared for that, and there were adequate supplies to last beyond the expected journey. What she wasn't ready for was the bumpy roads and how tiring this journey would be.
There were many stops that allowed everyone time to rest, eat, sleep, bathe, and so forth. Her sleeping situation was already arranged beforehand and soldiers took turns to guard her at every moment.
Nonetheless, the shaking of the carriage during the ride made it distracting for her to do anything—especially reading books. There was nothing for her to do inside of the carriage.
It was hard for her to get a wink of sleep during the ride. The only thing that kept her from dying of boredom was the scenic views. But after a while of looking at the same trees and sky, there wasn't anything to keep her occupied.
"How boring," Li Xueyue sighed. Her shoulders were stiff from sitting upright the entire day. Everyone was polite and respectful to her, but no one dared to start up small talks with her.
"At least this keeps my fingers occupied," she murmured whilst stroking her fingers on Yu Zhen's pendant.
Despite the pendant in her hand, Li Xueyue felt isolated from the world. Her only companion was Heiyue who was directly beside her window. Sometimes, she would stick her hand out and caress the impatient horse.
Moreover, it rained for most part of the journey. On days when the angry clouds were simply too much, they were forced to stop in the forest and come to a rest.
The dreary weather made everything unbearable, especially the chills.
"It's fine," she told herself whilst a blanket rested upon her legs.
Li Xueyue did her best to not complain. She reminded herself that everyone had it much worse than her.
But her luck took a turn for the worst. On the fifth day of travel, when the wheel of her carriage broke, her heart sank.
Li Xueyue had been lazily playing with the tassel of Yu Zhen's pendant when the carriage lurched and tilted to the side. She quickly slipped the pendant into her pocket just as a soft knock came on the carriage door.
"We apologize for this inconvenience, Princess Li," one of the servants stated upon opening the door.
"The soldiers are working hard to get the wheel repaired so that we can make it to the nearest town and get it fixed," he added on.
Li Xueyue pressed her lips and slowly nodded.
The servant was fretful and misread the Princess's emotions. "Don't worry, Princess Li. If the soldiers take too long, we can always have someone quickly run off to the town and fetch for a blacksmith."
"It's alright, no need to rush," Li Xueyue stated. It would be too much of a hassle if someone ran off. What if they got lost and couldn't find their way back?
Through the window, she noticed Heiyue had stomped the ground hesitatingly. The sudden noise of the broken wheel must've startled him.
"I'll step outside, it'll be easier for them to adjust the wheel," she added on.
The servant was hesitant. She didn't want the Princess to be dirtied by the rough terrain. Certainly, there weren't any strict orders to keep the Princess inside of the carriage while they were travelling, but most young maiden would hate the smell of the rain.
"Princess Li, the pavement is still a bit muddy from yesterday's rain," the servant said with a bow of her head.
"A little dirt never hurt anyone," Li Xueyue responded. She stepped outside of the carriage with the help of her servant.
Li Xueyue tensed a bit when her boots were met with the sticky ground. Her shoes left a footprint on the ground. She brushed off the squirmy feeling of walking on soft mud.
Li Xueyue was wearing training robes that fitted her well, so everything was fine and dandy to her.
It was by the second day of the journey when she had given up on the frills. It wasn't like anyone else would see her throughout the entire journey. She might as well get comfortable during the tiring ride.
"A treat," Li Xueyue whispered upon approaching Heiyue. She lifted up her palms and Heiyue wasted no time in gobbling up the sugar cube. She had snuck some from the supplies and tucked it into her pockets.
Li Xueyue noticed a small pouch attached to the saddle on Heiyue. She reached out and felt it. It was put in place after that incident in the Capital's stables with Zheng Leiyu and Bai Tianai. She had kept money inside of the pouch, in case anything were to go awry.
"You've been very good throughout the journey," Li Xueyue praised whilst running her hands through Heiyue's midnight coat. She was impressed by the healthy gleam that still remained, despite not being brushed.
"I should properly tend—" she was cut off by a loud scream behind her.
Li Xueyue turned around in time to hear the clicks of swords being unsheathed. The blood drained from her face when she saw what had caused the commotion. Crowds of men emerged from the dense forest, all of whom were heavily armed. They were bandits who clearly outnumbered her entourage.
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