"Hmm, a complaint about the country? Well, I'd say the taxes are too high and heavy on us. I heard from my sister living near the forest that her town has been offering a lot of their supplies to the soldiers. With little to none left for themselves, it's been difficult for them to get by."
"You want to know what angers me so much? How unfair it is that the rich and middle-class can get their prissy little problems heard by the People's Representative. We don't have our own leader to talk to about issues, and that damn representative always ignores us."
"Well, would you like the honest truth, little lady? What I struggle the most is finding a suitable place for my children to spend their time meaningfully when I'm out in the stalls. My husband and I don't want them to sit here and do nothing all day."
The list of problems went on, from small requests to large ones. In particular, the peasants had the most complaints about their living situation. Many were very reasonable and polite with their responses whereas some were more crude.
Li Xueyue had to nudge Yu Zhen a few times to prevent him from glaring at the majority of those who spoke brashly to her.
"You heard it yourself," Li Xueyue told Yu Zhen outside the town stables. Lu Tianbi and Hu Dengxiao had gone inside to fetch the horses.
"The locals never tell me this when I do my rounds in the Capital," Yu Zhen grunted.
Li Xueyue laughed. He must've been irritated to know the people revealed more to her than to him.
"As I've said, you're scary. You have an intimidating face—like you're angry or something," she teased.
Yu Zhen scowled. He subconsciously played with the ends of her ponytail. He refused to accept it.
"Yu Zhen…" she trailed off, eyeing him hesitantly.
"Yes, love?" Yu Zhen responded in a heartbeat. He enjoyed the sound of his name on her tongue. He rested a hand upon her waist and squeezed it in assurance.
"I want to visit the slums. Just to see the situation there and—"
"But you said you'd give me freedom—"
"It's dangerous there."
Li Xueyue frowned at his words. "I'm not frail."
Yu Zhen held back a pointed look. It wasn't that she was weak, but more of, he was worried for her. She was simply too precious in his life. He couldn't bear the thought of her injuring herself or disappearing again. Her pain was his pain.
"Just trust me," he told her. "I know my people best."
"Doesn't seem like it," Li Xueyue mumbled.
"Every country has slums," Yu Zhen informed her.
"Perhaps, more schools will prevent that," Li Xueyue told him. "And besides, I think we should increase the war tax on aristocrats."
Yu Zhen nodded. Anything to change the topic. "Is that what you want?"
"And lower taxes for everything else. Plus a representative for every social class, not just the middle-class and higher."
"And a kiss?"
Yu Zhen's face went blank.
She let out a small laugh but was caught off guard by him. She was joking around but he clearly didn't think of it that way. He grabbed her chin and brought her face up.
"Zhenzhen, did we take too long—oh."
Yu Zhen frowned at the interruption. He dropped her chin and pulled her closer, knowing her face was red with embarrassment. Li Xueyue was bold with her words but always so easy to scare.
"Shut up and get on with it," Yu Zhen commanded.
Hu Dengxiao straightened up and saluted his Commander. "Yes, sir!"
Yu Zhen reached out to smack him on the back of the head.
Hu Dengxiao let out a sharp cry of pain, clutching the spot. "Zhenzhen, at this rate, I won't have a brain!"
"You already don't," Yu Zhen snarled. He snatched Heiyue's reins from his advisor and guided the horse to them.
Hu Dengxiao pouted at his words. "But people have told me I'm the wisest strategist of my time…"
Lu Tianbi chuckled at his behavior. "That's because there's not a lot of competition."
She handed the reins of Xiao Lizi to Yu Zhen. The horse snorted at this and nudged at her.
"Biased little thing," Yu Zhen muttered. At his words, Xiao Lizi trotted to him as if she could understand it.
With him distracted, Li Xueyue easily slipped away from his hold. She wondered what it was with his obsession to always touch her. He hadn't done it that much in Wuyi.
Li Xueyue patted the side of Heiyue's head. She hopped onto her horse without much trouble. Before she could quickly ride off, Yu Zhen grabbed the side of Heiyue's reins.
"And where do you think you're going?"
Li Xueyue glared down at his hand. Why were his reflexes so quick? She thought he was distracted by Hu Dengxiao.
"Don't be stubborn," Yu Zhen demanded.
"Just a look," she promised.
"We're heading back," Yu Zhen told her. In the blink of an eye, he was on top of Xiao Lizi.
Li Xueyue's shoulders dropped in disappointment. She played with Heiyue's mane, refusing to look at the stubborn mule beside her. He heard him sigh in aggravation. But she continued to ignore him.
"I do this for your own good, Sunshine. You have to realize that."
"I'm just worried about the people there, that's all."
"I've always done a tour of the towns," Yu Zhen informed her. "I'm aware of the situation there. However, things have drastically improved after I created more job opportunities in the form of reconstructing the buildings ravaged by the war."
"But there are still children thieves—"
"I've said it has gotten better, not that it's perfect. But with enough time and patience, there won't be any more children on the streets."
Li Xueyue's head shot up. "Give more funding to the orphanages as well. Maybe that's why they resorted to stealing."
Yu Zhen raised a brow. "Some things are easier said than done."
"But you'll make it happen, won't you?"
"If it pleases you, yes."
Li Xueyue was caught off guard by his words. She didn't think he would compromise yet again.
Her heart skipped at the slow smile that spread on his lips. "I'm sorry for being stubborn," she stated.
"At least you admit it," Yu Zhen retorted.
Li Xueyue didn't say anything.
"And why do you look so surprised, Sunshine?" Yu Zhen said. "Did you think I wouldn't agree?"
"Well, it's just, I didn't think you knew how to compromise," she truthfully said.
Li Xueyue was surprised by the events of today. Of course, everything took a bit of arguing, but that was normal wasn't it? As long as it wasn't an actual fight. It was just a normal debate.
"It's because you informed me of your wants."
Li Xueyue tilted his head. What did he mean by that?
Reading her inquisitive expression, Yu Zhen's smile became more wry. "I can't read your mind, Sunshine. It's just as you said, communication matters. So, continue voicing your thoughts to me."
Li Xueyue was overwhelmed with emotions. She didn't know what to say to that.
Li Xueyue hadn't realized she was beginning to voice her desires a lot more. Perhaps he brought that side out of her. There was something about the way he made her feel reassured… she couldn't place a finger upon it.
"But next time, you should also learn to compromise with me. Only then would it be fair," he said.
Li Xueyue nodded at his words. "Okay."
Yu Zhen's lips curled into a warm smile. "Now, let's head home."
"Oh finally," Hu Dengxiao stated. "I was wondering when they'd stop looking at each other with lovey-dovey eyes. Seriously, I think my teeth are rotting, Tiantian."
Hu Dengxiao let out a small shriek when Yu Zhen shot him a dark glower. He immediately clamped his mouth shut.
Lu Tianbi rolled her eyes at her companion. "Sometimes I wonder if you purposely want to get scolded by the Commander. You always speak whatever comes to your mind."
"Only because someone has to say the truth around here…" Hu Dengxiao trailed off. He was wary of what his Commander would do. In all honesty, he enjoyed getting the Commander riled up.
The Crown Prince rarely showed his emotions. Everyone was familiar with his blank, apathetic expression. It was that or dark glowers of disapproval.
Hu Dengxiao was just appreciative to see any other emotion, even if it was irritation or anger.
Lu Tianbi let out a sigh. "I seriously don't understand you."
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