Silence ensued for a few seconds before everyone went back to bickering. They were disinterested in everything but the argument at hand.
"Are you out of your mind?!" a man dressed in green called out whilst pointing an accusing finger at someone dressed in red.
"That is a horrible idea!" someone else chimed in agreement.
"Are you crazy, Duke Han?!"
"At least I passed the Imperial Exams with a full score, you dimwit! Don't call me crazy when you're stupid!" Duke Han retorted, ignoring all of the irritable men in front of him.
"Bah! We all saw the answers you wrote on your wrist!" the man in green stated. "You damn cheat!"
"That is a sorry excuse of a law, you must be out of your mind!" he added.
"How dare you! Don't you dare question my decision when you didn't get a perfect score!" Duke Han seethed.
Arguments and roars of displeasure continued onwards.
Li Xueyue could do nothing but gawk.
Sitting before an enormous round table were people of all shapes, gender, and sizes.
Her eyes trailed over the group of grown adults who were bickering like children. They were unlike her expectations.
There wasn't a single guard in the room despite the amount of high-profiled people gathered here. Or perhaps, there were soldiers and they were simply hidden in the darkness. There wasn't a window in this room. Every measure was taken to ensure secrecy.
Abruptly, a scroll was thrown onto the floor by the same man in green. He slammed his hand onto the table, rage in his eyes.
"I told you Duke Han, this idea would never work!"
"Just like your peanut sized brain!" Duke Han scoffed whilst resisting the urge to roll his eyes.
Li Xueyue's attention drifted to Yu Zhen and the Empress. He sat there, completely unbothered by the men throwing insults at each other. He seemed disinterested in whatever they had to say.
The Empress had her red lips pressed into a thin line. Her brows were scrunched together, revealing the only wrinkle on her face. She was displeased by this argument but not surprised.
"Well, this is embarrassing," Li Xueyue finally said.
At her provocative statement, everyone's eyes went to her. They were shocked that a woman, much less a Princess, would have the audacity to raise her voice in here.
"What did you just say?" Duke Han demanded in a low, intimidating voice.
"Watch your tongue, Duke," Li Xueyue warned whilst walking into the room. Despite the glower from these men, she refused to cower back.
Li Xueyue would accept nothing but respect. And getting them to acknowledge her title was the first step.
Despite how progressive Hanjian was, the men in here had a traditional mindset. In their eyes, women weren't supposed to speak unless spoken to—especially Princesses. They were supposed to be beautiful decorations that lined the palace walls, and nothing else.
It was precisely this reason that many were stunned by Li Xueyue's words. They didn't think a foreigner of this country would keep a leash on a high Duke of Hanjian.
"Princess," a voice spoke up, filled with amusement. His eyes curled when he smiled. It was the man in green whose behavior completely changed at the sight of her.
"You look rather dashing this evening, Princess," he complimented.
Li Xueyue's emotionless eyes shifted to him. It seemed he had a death wish, much like Wu Xiang's playful behavior which had gotten him into trouble on numerous occasions.
Laughter erupted at his words. Judging by the Empress's face, this was a common occurrence. As a matter of fact, she received a similar treatment the first time she walked in here, young and naive.
Yu Zhen's face darkened at Representative Wu's words. The man was young, unwed, and an eligible bachelor.
Yu Zhen's mood soured. He opened his mouth, ready to silence his men, but his wife was quicker than that.
"I wish I can say the same to you," Li Xueyue mused.
Yet again, she was met with shocked silence. They gawked at her like she was an unidentified species of animal. People had expected her to cower back in embarrassment but she didn't.
When she revealed an innocuous smile and batted her lashes, a few looked away. She was unfazed by all of them.
"Well, I am certainly offended," the man joked. "But I will acknowledge your clever taunt."
He placed a hand upon his chest, revealing his bare fingers. "It is a pleasure to meet your acquaintance. I am Representative Wu. I'm in charge of agriculture."
Li Xueyue held back a comment about his entirely green robes. She wondered if it was a coincidence.
Her response was the mere nod of her head.
Li Xueyue entered the room without another word. She approached the table and was well aware of everyone's gaze. They were watching. Waiting. Expecting. What would she do now?
The Crown Princess was full of surprises. Some thought it was pleasant, others though it was rude.
But then again, she didn't seem to care.
Li Xueyue hoped her head wouldn't shake, but it did. When she picked up the few scrolls that were scattered on the table, her fingers trembled with anxiety. She tried her best not to be intimidated but her heart was uneasy.
Nonetheless, she forced herself to focus on the task at hand.
"Hmmm…" Li Xueyue was able to understand the gist of their argument. It was a petty one.
"A law that peasants shouldn't wear colorful clothing that disguises their rank," she read out loud, her lips curved downwards.
She lifted her gaze from the scroll. Everyone was looking at her. They wanted to hear her judgement.
"It's an interesting idea," she commented.
Duke Han was instantly impressed with her words. He smiled in agreement, his morale lifting a bit.
"However," she added on. "It is an unfair law."
"Only because you're too compassionate, as most women are," Duke Han retorted with a scoff.
"Do you pride yourself on being heartless?" Li Xueyue mused with a shake of her head.
"Riots. Chaos. Uprisings. All of this will happen if we control the commoners' clothing choices," she explained. "If we control their clothes, what comes next? Limiting the type of food they eat? Controlling the material they could use to build their houses? Forbidding certain names for their children?"
"Obviously, I am not suggesting that," Duke Han retorted. "You're unable to understand things from my perspective. It makes an awful leader. I am beginning to doubt the future of Hanjian if you are to become an Empress."
Duke Han gestured to the men surrounding him. "Leave the decisions of this country to men, Princess." Duke Han had said the title as if it was a joke.
"Why don't you focus on…." he trailed off, pretending to ponder his words.
"Oh, I know! You should concentrate on the type of clothes that women are allowed to wear. Now that it's summer, many women are wearing lesser layers. With the already well-fitted robes, it is certainly unacceptable!" he exclaimed.
Li Xueyue wondered what Lu Tianbi had meant when she said women were allowed to freely express their thoughts here. Her attention drifted to the woman in question.
Lu Tianbi seemed apologetic, but not surprised.
"Do you prefer that women die from heat strokes then?" Li Xueyue finally said. She settled the scrolls back onto the table.
Li Xueyue recalled what Yu Zhen had told her. After the "discussion" concludes, every member here would then vote in agreement or disagreement. In theory, it was a fairly simple procedure.
"I prefer women to have some dignity and pride."
"We maintain dignity at the cost of health. We lose pride by allowing a country to dictate our clothing," Li Xueyue deadpanned.
She heard a high-pitched laughter. Her attention snapped to Representative Wu who smiled upon meeting her eyes.
"I must admit your responses are very witty, Princess," he complimented.
A sharp clear of the throat was heard. His gaze quickly traveled to the Crown Prince whose eyes dripped with murderous intent.
Representative Wu awkwardly laughed and wiped the smile from his face. He didn't think the rumors were true. The Crown Prince was in fact, possessive of his wife. It was a funny thought, considering his lack of interest towards everything else in life. No one believed he was capable of caring for something.
"Duke Han," Yu Zhen finally said. His voice came out in a low rumble. He sounded calm, but not really.
"You have presented your argument," he said. "And the Round Table has given their opinion."
Yu Zhen's eyes met Li Xueyue's eyes for a brief second before he looked away.
"Considering the opinions of both sides, it is time to come to a decision," he stated.
Representative Wu wanted to make another comment about the fact that the only voice of reason was the Crown Princess. Prior to her arrival, there wasn't a strong argument for the opposite side, aside from people voicing out their disagreements.
But he kept his mouth shut. Interrupting the Crown Prince was like asking for a death sentence.
"All of those in favor of the law, may raise their hands," Yu Zhen stated.
Only two hands went up, Duke Han's and another man's. But the attention wasn't on them. It was upon the Crown Princess who had fearlessly voiced her opinion. It was a daring decision that would win her an adequate amount of supporters, as well as enemies.
"The Round Table has spoken." Yu Zhen turned his head to Duke Han. "The suggestion you've brought forth is denied."
Duke Han glowered at the table before stiffly nodding his head.
Yu Zhen decided to deal with this scuffling ancient tortoise later. His attention shifted directly to Li Xueyue. A ghost of a smile rested upon his lips. The sight created a sense of uncertainty in the room.
The Crown Prince never smiled. And if he did, it was for all of the wrong reasons. Suddenly, everyone pitied the Princess. It seemed he didn't favor her as much as everyone had thought. It was a good thing, for showing too much bias would not be a good thing.
"Now, does anyone else have other matters to raise about Hanjian's laws?" he asked.
No one said anything. Especially after Duke Han's embarrassing defeat to a woman, much less, a Princess meant for decoration.
In all honesty, this silence wasn't a surprise. Talks about laws were rarely initiated. The main discussion was usually about the betterment of Hanjian.
Everyone was prepared to move on until the Crown Princess spoke up.
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