17 Mooch Some Breakfast and Tea
Xueyue stood there, puzzled by his words. Her eyebrows drew together as she stared at the closed wooden doors. She had never seen the man once in her life except for today and they've barely even talked for ten minutes, yet, he already seemed to like her. What a strange man...
Suddenly, the sound of loud thumping rang throughout the wooden corridors. "Xiao Yue, I'm finally let out from hell—oops, I meant classes!" Li Wenmin shouted from the other side of the hallway.
Xueyue turned around to see an energetic Wenmin bounce his way towards her with a bright smile on his face. He held a sword in one hand and his helmet in the other. 'He must've finished sword practice,' she thought to herself.
"Let's go and practice archery!" Without waiting for her reply, Li Wenmin took her by the wrist and dragged her down the halls and into the open field behind the manor. Wordlessly, she followed after him with a small smile.
- - - - -
Duke Li Shenyang's study.
"This tea seems… quite interesting," the man commented after placing the teacup on the table.
Duke Li Shenyang leaned back in his chair and chuckled in amusement. "Your sister made it," he said while leaning his cheek on his propped up arm.
Although Duchess Wang Qixing was very capable of mastering any skill she decided to learn, making tea was her worst one yet.
She was always curious about mixing different tea leaves, petals, and even herbs together. Her favorite part about the hobby was forcing her children and husband to sample her unique creation.
There were multiple occasions where they would get sick from the weird concoctions. In the end, she decided to only torture her husband with it.
And today, Duchess Wang Qixing decided to mix dried rose petals, star anise, and a pinch of sea salt to "enhance the flavor".
"Because you came so unexpectedly, I couldn't notify a servant beforehand to prepare a new batch of tea, Your Majesty," Duke Li Shenyang nonchalantly lied. He simply wanted the Emperor to harmlessly suffer.
The Emperor was known to be a scheming man whose hobby consisted of scouting concubines for his sons.
Duke Li Shenyang realized if the Emperor was ever interested in a woman, it was often for the benefit of his sons.
Duke Li Shenyang believed the Emperor's interests in Xueyue was a disastrous thing. He did not want the naive young woman in a palace of conniving flowers.
"Your tone implies you're angered by me. Why is that?" the Emperor mused. He took another sip of the odd-tasting tea.
Duke Li Shenyang sweetly smiled. "I beg your pardon, Your Majesty. This humble man does not understand what you're trying to imply," Duke Li Shenyang lazily said.
If Duke Li Shenyang was a simple man, the Emperor would have ensured he suffered in prison for offending the Crown. Or even worse, a beheading without trial. No one dared to bluntly insult the royal family, especially the Great Emperor of Wuyi.
"What did I say about the extravagant titles?"
Duke Li Shenyang resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "I'm not going to call you brother-in-law."
The Emperor laughed as he leaned back in his seat.
"You should take off your disguise, it's awful to look at," Duke Li Shenyang suggested. He disdainfully eyed the fake mustache, blotches of dirt make-up on his face, and random specks of age marks.
The Emperor shrugged and said, "I like it. It makes me feel humble."
"I'm honored by your presence, of course. But what did you come here for? I'm sure it's not to mooch some tea and breakfast off of me," Duke Li Shenyang said.
For the Emperor to come in person and without his advisers and ministers, was a very rare sight. The Imperial Court was hard to manage. If the situation wasn't important, why would someone as pristine as the Emperor leave his throne?
The Emperor kept his reason very brief and short, "We need you back in court."
Duke Li Shenyang's lips tilted downwards until it formed a scowl. Irritation flashed on his face as his fingers curled into a tight fist. "Why do you need me?"
The Emperor coldly smiled. "Do I need a reason to summon the Prime Minister back into court?"
"You will need a good reason to summon a RETIRED Prime Minister back into court," Duke Li Shenyang retorted with a snarl. He hated the court life and the scheming ministers.
The court life was vicious and horrendous. Behind that friendly mask, who exactly was a friend or foe?
As the Prime Minister, Duke Li Shenyang was one of the most powerful men in the country. However, the job took a toll on his sanity. He had nearly lost his wife and children in the process of securing his position.
Besides, it wasn't like he needed the income and prestige that came with the title. From the trade routes and ports that his family controlled, he was already very wealthy.
"If the situation wasn't dire, would the Emperor come in person to summon you back into court?" the Emperor calmly responded with a strained smile and a pair of hostile eyes.
Duke Li Shenyang was surprised to see the ferociousness in the Emperor's eyes. They were long-term friends who had grown up together.
When he saw how serious and humorless the Emperor was, he reluctantly asked, "How long will I be back in the Capital for?"
"As long as I need you." The response was very curt and revealed no specific timing.
Duke Li Shenyang could only guess he would be in court for a very long time. "I cannot be away from my wife, who is also your beloved sister, and my children for a very long time."
He tried his hardest not to frown, but his lips dipped downwards anyways. He didn't want to leave his wife and children behind. The minute he stepped foot in court, he'd never find the time of day to leave it.
The Emperor raised a brow at his excuse. "You don't have to be away from them. You have a house in the Capital that's also very close to the palace."
Duke Li Shenyang thought about the house that didn't belong to him, but instead, to his lovely wife.
The Empress Dowager had gifted the house to Duchess Wang Qixing when she got married, in hopes the two would remain in that house in the Capital for a very long time. But the couple had different plans in mind.
They wanted a life far away from the Capital and Imperial Palace, which was why they moved to Hechen—a city that was at least a week's worth of travel from the Capital.
"My beloved sister has already been informed of the change. I'm surprised she hasn't consulted you," the Emperor commented.
Duke Li Shenyang frowned. He remembered a few days ago, his wife wanted to tell him something, but he was too busy tending to the paperwork and had brushed her off. He had an inkling he would regret it later, but he didn't think it would come true so soon.
The Emperor added on, "When Minghua died, you've seen how she was. It was in this very place that she had birthed and raised Minghua. Every living memory of Minghua is within this dreadful manor."
He always had a very soft spot for the quiet Minghua who seemed so obedient and silent, he wondered if she even had a voice of her own.
"Staying in this manor when it has only been a few weeks since the death of your daughter is not good for my sister. Everywhere she walks, she's reminded of Minghua."
Duke Li Shenyang tiredly sighed at the blatant facts on hand. Before the arrival of Xueyue, his wife would refuse to leave their room because every corner she turned, she would remember the memories she had shared with Minghua.
The garden that was newly rearranged, the hallways Minghua would sit and stare out from, the pavilion she'd sit and read from, every furniture and part of this house had painful memories of her. Staying in this house was beginning to slowly, but surely suffocate Duchess Wang Qixing.
Duke Li Shenyang knew she didn't want to be a burden and request for a change of residence which would require too much work. He felt foolish for thinking she could easily move on from Minghua's death.
Reluctantly, he asked, "What does my lovely wife have in mind?"
The Emperor inwardly smiled. He had won this battle. "My beloved sister wants to move back to the Capital. Mother would also want to see her, it's been years since she's last seen her daughter."
He watched Duke Li Shenyang's expression shift from annoyance to reluctance and finally, acceptance. "Fine, I will move back to the Capital."