"Are you sure about this, Your Highness?" Wu Xiang questioned with uncertainty. He tightly clenched the folded fan in his hands.
"Even the Empress herself has never sat in any of the Round Table discussions. Of course, the Empress is supposed to watch over the country, but let's be honest, her days are supposed to be spent catering to her children, Your Highness," Wu Xiang added on.
Wu Xiang watched his friend with a frown. The Crown Prince continued to ignore him.
Wu Xiang held back a groan of complaint when his friend turned the page of the book he was reading.
"I know the Crown Princess is wise, but you should reconsider it, Your Highness. It might take a toll on her," Wu Xiang stated.
Yu Zhen lazily read the passage. The Art of War. He hoped Li Xueyue had read through it before.
"Your voice is more irritating than the women in a brothel collectively," Yu Zhen murmured. He flipped the page, despite already memorizing everything in the book.
Wu Xiang scowled at this. "I am trying to help you as a friend, Your Highness. My wife hates politics, she'd rather much spend her time tending to social outings and having tea with her friends. I'm sure the Crown Princess—"
"What my Wangfei enjoys has nothing to do with you," Yu Zhen interrupted.
Wu Xiang opened his mouth to argue, but closed it a second later. He could tell how irritated his friend was. Wu Xiang couldn't help his nagging. He inherited the unfavorable trait from his father.
The Chancellor of Hanjian had also spent his entire life worrying about another family that wasn't his. He had stressed over every decision made by the Emperor, despite the man's flawless execution.
"Your father is stepping down soon," Yu Zhen coldly said. "Why don't you go and learn something from him?"
Wu Xiang rolled his eyes. In a flick of his wrist, the paper fan spread. "I spent my entire life learning how to be a Chancellor, waiting for the day he retires with your father, the Emperor."
Wu Xiang watched as the Crown Prince paused. It was for a brief moment and he nearly missed the small action.
Yu Zhen settled the book down. He threw Wu Xiang a disgruntled look, similar to the one that a knowing father would give to their misbehaving son.
"I know, I know," Wu Xiang sighed. "You dislike His Majesty… But Father has always told me His Majesty frets about you more than all of his children. His Majesty is stern to you because he wants you to be better than him."
Yu Zhen took a calm sip of his tea.
Wu Xiang anxiously stared down at his friend. Why was it always so hard to gauge what the Crown Prince was thinking? It was so annoying. Yu Zhen looked relaxed even when frustrated.
"As much as we don't want to admit it, His Majesty is reaching his final months… He plans to step down from the position instead of leaving it to you after death. You know what this means, don't you, Your Highness? The Emperor wants to see the day you succeed."
Yu Zhen placed the teacup down and picked up his book again. He didn't care what his father wanted. That man never cared for what his son wanted.
Why did everyone want to justify the actions of an abusive father? Tough love, they called it? It was humorous. Does a father beating his son count as love? Does a father neglecting his son count as love?
"And well uhm…" Wu Xiang trailed off. He wanted to see a hint of emotion on the Crown Prince's face. The only expressions Yu Zhen wore were multiple forms of irritation, boredom, and disgust.
An idea instantly came to mind. "Hey, hey, you want to know what the ladies have been talking about regarding the Crown Princess?"
At this, Yu Zhen lifted his gaze from the book. He raised a brow.
Wu Xiang chuckled. "Ah-ha, I knew that could get your attention!" He smirked in triumph and spontaneously fanned himself.
"I am the keeper of knowledge you know. All of the palace gossip reaches my ears," Wu Xiang boasted.
Yu Zhen impatiently glowered at his friend.
"Heh, seeing you so riled up like this is kind of fun, Your Highness," Wu Xiang smugly said. He slowed down the speed he was fanning himself and took a couple steps back.
"You see, many have wondered how exactly she captured your attention. I mean, she's lovely but—"
Wu Xiang jumped when he saw a ghost of a smile on the Crown Prince's face. Did… the Crown Prince enjoy it when people complimented his woman? It was strange. Wasn't possessive men supposed to scold anyone who dared to look at their wife?
Wu Xiang blinked. Oh right, that was just his crazy nature. The Crown Prince must've been confident enough to not feel that sort of jealousy.
"But well, not many women have suited your fancy. I mean, there are a lot of women willing to marry a dashing young Commander who isn't only good with his hands, but also his—"
Wu Xiang shrieked when a teacup was hurled at him. He threw his hands in the air.
"What?! I was complimenting you, Your Highness! Don't you want to know what other women think of you?"
Wu Xiang angrily closed his fan again. "They have wild fantasies about your capabilities because you're so damn healthy all the time. How do you even have the time to train with all of this paperwork?"
"For your sake, I'll pretend not to have heard that," Yu Zhen responded.
Wu Xiang rolled his eyes again. He couldn't believe the Crown Prince. Harems were frowned upon, but so what? Who'd dare to talk about the Crown Prince having a handful of affairs on the side?
"I heard you keep on rejecting Xu Jiaqi, even though she's beautiful. Even my wife was astonished to hear you wouldn't be taking any concubines, especially after you showed Xu Jiaqi some attention."
"Using her is called showing attention? Is the expectation that low?" Yu Zhen said in a monotone voice.
Wu Xiang struggled to come up with something. "Wouldn't one partner bore you? You have a lot of stamina. What if the Crown Princess can't keep up?"
"I'll make sure she does."
Wu Xiang nearly cried for the poor Crown Princess.
"Does your wife bore you?" Yu Zhen added on.
"What? Of course not!" Wu Xiang exclaimed. "I'd never have an affair, you know, so stop looking at me like that. I love her and our children too much to even fathom such a thing. She keeps me on my toes and—"
"You have your answer." Yu Zhen stood up, wondering what was taking Li Xueyue so long. Could something have happened along the way?
Yu Zhen frowned a bit. He wasn't able to watch over her sleep at night. There was too much on his plate, especially since he was urging the wedding planning to go on even at night.
Did she have another nightmare? Was she sick from her lack of sleep? He regretted not eating breakfast with her. Xiao Juzi was being fussy all morning, baring his teeth at any servant that approached—even if they carried meat to feed him.
"What's wrong?" Wu Xiang said when he noticed a shift in emotion. It was rare to see a different expression this time.
Wu Xiang had finally understood the meaning of the Crown Prince's words. But now, he was puzzled by something else.
Why did the Crown Prince suddenly look so concerned?
Wu Xiang couldn't remember a single moment in time when the Crown Prince cared about something. Well, maybe when his horse or tiger was ill. But aside from that, it hadn't happened before.
"Are you feeling unwell?" Wu Xiang wondered, despite the possibility of that being low. The Crown Prince was always known to be healthy and strong.
People always credited it to the Commander's rigorous training on the fields or his great diet. But the truth was… the Emperor used to feed the Crown Prince poison to strengthen his antibodies.
"Could it be the food, Your Highness?" Wu Xiang breathed out in fear. That should be impossible. The Crown Prince was immune to a wide variety of well-known poison.
"Do I need to summon the Imperial Physician, Your Highness?" Wu Xiang stated.
Yu Zhen blinked. The Imperial Physician? "Yes, call for him," he said.
"Okay, I'll tell my servant outside to fetch—"
"Zhen-gege!" a chirpy voice exclaimed from outside of the tall, looming doors of the private study.
"You irritating Eunuch, there is no need to announce my presence," argued the loud voice.
"Third Princess, please—"
Yu Lingluo barged in without another word. She nearly fell on her face but continued trudging onwards.
"Guess who I found on my way to your private study!" Yu Lingluo happily said as she stepped aside.
"Zhen-gege, you weren't lying all along! The Crown Princess really is beautiful. I really think my niece and nephew will be stunning and—"
Yu Zhen didn't pay any mind to his younger sister's rambling. She hadn't stopped. But the background noises drowned out when he saw Li Xueyue. She was as captivating as always, despite only smiling.
"—Well, what do you think of the name Yu Luoluo if I have a niece? Of course, it's a bit similar to my name, but I think it's adorable. Oh wait, for a boy, you can name him Yu Zhenzhen or something like that," Yu Lingluo concluded.
She glanced around in confusion, noticing her brother wasn't listening to her at all. She pouted and followed his line of sight.
Yu Zhen's attention was solely focused on Li Xueyue who was attentively listening to Yu Lingluo.
Yu Lingluo blinked in confusion. It was so strange… Yu Zhen was looking at Li Xueyue as if she was the only person in the entire room.
It was a strange sight, but one that made Yu Lingluo realize the exact position Li Xueyue had in the Crown Prince's heart.
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