Li Xueyue didn't know where she had run off to. She eventually came to a stop and glanced around her. She saw one hallway after another, so much so, that it was confusing.
She hadn't realized how long she ran for. Without a doubt, she was lost. Pressing her lips together, she decided it was best to retrace her steps and walk down the route she came from.
A few minutes passed and after continuously turning corners after corners, she was deeper in the palace and even further away from her estate.
Eventually, she threw her hands up in defeat.
"Why is my luck so horrid?" she sighed, turning around. This place wasn't as lavished as the rest of the palace. The wood here seemed a bit older and less polished.
"Oh, I see someone," she said to herself.
Li Xueyue noticed a small silhouette in the distance. The body was squatting on the ground, hunched over a bush.
"Is this the servants' quarters?" she wondered out loud, glancing left and right. It would explain the lack of decorations and landscaping.
Li Xueyue found it strange there wasn't anyone here. But then again, it was morning, and all of the servants must've rushed off to do their chores. There were many things to get done daily in this enormous palace.
It didn't take long for her to reach the person. Upon closer inspection, she noticed it was a little boy. His hair was messily cut, and it reminded her of an upside down bowl. She peered over his shoulders, wondering what he was doing.
Upon noticing a shadow looming over him, the small boy jumped and turned around. His eyes were wide with fear and he fell flat on his butt.
"U-uhm…" he stuttered out. He could do nothing but gawk up at the woman staring down at him.
Li Xueyue blinked. Was she that scary? She scratched the side of her head and offered a gentle smile.
"Hi there," she said. "What's your name?"
The boy nervously looked around. His eyes darted to the left and then the right. He didn't mean to wander off, but the little butterfly had lured him to do so. He was engrossed watching the small creature in the bush.
"I… I…" he trailed off, unable to come up with a sentence. He was frightened by her. It wasn't that she looked mean. It was just... strangers were scary.
"Are you lost?" Li Xueyue asked, even though it was a stupid question, considering the fact that she too, was lost.
Li Xueyue felt something was off about this child but she brushed it off. He must be the son of a servant. He seemed no older than the age of three, but something about his eyes made her think otherwise.
Contrasting his youthful figure, his eyes were dull and hopeless. It was as if he had experienced great pains in his life.
"My name is Xueyue," she said, hoping this interaction would soothe him.
"What's yours?" she asked.
The little boy still didn't respond. He quietly scooted backwards—almost as if he wanted the bush to swallow him alive.
Li Xueyue pressed her lips together. She took a step backward to give him some space. Maybe the shadow she created over his trembling body terrified him. He was still shivering on the ground with a frantic look on his face.
"I won't hurt you," she mumbled, watching as he hesitantly looked around him. Her eyes widened when he grabbed a rock.
Abruptly, he tossed it at her. "G-go away!" he cried out in fear.
Li Xueyue caught the rock in her hands. She let out a low whistle. "Wow, this is jagged," she said.
If it had landed on her, it would've done some damage. She tossed the pebble aside. Were all of Hanjian's children so scary?
Li Xueyue swiped her hands together to rid her hands of dust. She decided it would be best not to bother with the little boy any longer. It was evident he didn't want her to be near him.
"I hope you know your way back, because I certainly don't," Li Xueyue remarked. She turned around and began to approach the hallway again.
Li Xueyue heard the shuffle of his clothes as he scrambled to stand up. She looked over her shoulder and saw him staring towards the ground. He was gripping the ends of his clothes, his head hung low
"Chen-ge is right," she sighed to herself. "You're too damn nice."
Li Xueyue faced him again. She kept her distance so that he wouldn't do anything to her. Even from afar, she saw his pout.
"You're lost, aren't you?" she stated.
Slowly, but surely, he nodded to the ground.
Li Xueyue raised a brow. "Well, you're out of luck. I'm also lost."
The boy's head shot up, disappointment written all over his face. His brows were knitted together, forming creases on his pale forehead. He seemed to be on the verge of tears.
"Why don't we search our way out together?" she said, offering a hand out for him. "Once I see a servant, I'll have her bring the both of us back."
��Servant…?" he repeated the unfamiliar words.
Li Xueyue nodded. For such a small kid, his pronunciations were amazing. Was he actually four or five years old and his growth spurt was just slower?
"Yes, they'll guide us back," she said.
"Back… to where?" he hesitantly asked.
Li Xueyue wondered if every kid was this cute. Now that she had a proper look at him, he was quite adorable with his chubby cheeks and tiny hands. But he seemed uncomfortable with her, which was understandable. Kids were usually shy.
"Back to wherever you came from," Li Xueyue responded. The little boy scratched the side of his head and lowered his eyes to the ground.
"So, why don't you come with me?" she stated.
He raised his head again whilst shuffling his feet.
"Trust me," she said whilst reaching a hand out for him to grab onto. He stared intently upon it. Slowly, but surely, he trotted forward with his little feet.
Li Xueyue had a better glimpse at him. She felt a tug in her chest. Something was off, but she couldn't pinpoint it.
"What is your name?" she asked for the third time just as he slipped his tiny hand into hers.
He blinked at her words before staring towards the ground. She bit her bottom lip. It was an easy question that he should be able to answer. Well, every kid is different.
"Then, what is your mother's name?"
She was yet again, met with silence.
Li Xueyue tilted her head. She rattled her brain, searching for another question to ask him. She couldn't think of much.
"Well then, what is your father's name?" she asked.
"Father…?" he repeated the unfamiliar word.
"Yes," she said and nodded. "A father is a man who takes care of you, and has equal responsibility in giving birth to you."
At this, he lifted his head. A man who takes care of you… He tried to think of someone like that in his life, aside from the kind women who always brought him food.
"Yu…" he whispered.
Li Xueyue blinked. What? She cupped her ears and leaned downwards, wondering what he had said.
"Can you repeat that?"
YuYu? Who was that?
Li Xueyue bit her lips. It sounded like a surname. "Yuyu, is that the name of your father?" she asked.
The little boy nodded. "Yuyu."
Li Xueyue frowned. Wait a minute. Was this little boy actually the son of a Prince?! She tilted her head, wondering how old the First Prince of Hanjian was. Could he have fathered an illegitimate son?
Li Xueyue carefully observed her features. If this kid was the First Prince's son, wouldn't it make him Yu Zhen's nephew? Therefore, their facial features should've slightly resembled each other, right?
"Yuyu sounds like his surname," Li Xueyue commented. "Does your father go by another name?"
"Yes, the man in your life who raised you or took care of you, either way works," Li Xueyue said with a shrug.
Li Xueyue realized his bangs were quite long. It covered his eyes a bit. She wanted to push the strands away so that he'd see clearly, but she didn't want to frighten him.
She was just glad he was holding her hand. It would be troublesome if he ran off.
"Well?" she softly asked, waiting for him to say anything.
The little boy blinked. Father… Only one other name came to mind.
"...Zhen," he whispered.
"Hmmm, what was that?" she asked, bending down again. She cupped her ears as he shyly whispered something.
"Yu Zhen…" he murmured. "My father is Yu Zhen."