Before anyone else could speak, Li Xueyue unrolled the scroll in her hand. She opened her mouth and continued.
"After exploring the Capital with the Crown Prince, there are alarming matters that were brought to our attention," Li Xueyue stated.
"Oh?" Representative Wu said with the raise of his brow.
He leaned forward, curious to hear what she had to say. What amused him the most was how the Crown Prince's face became gloomier at his small action.
"I was informed that Hanjian supports the commoners a lot better than Wuyi," she began, her eyes surveying the people in the room. They watched her, daring her to object.
She revealed a smile. "I agree with that aspect."
Li Xueyue saw the approval in their eyes, but that was expected wasn't it? Everyone wanted to hear about how great their birth country was.
Who didn't? It was best to start on a positive note, then bring forth the issue, and finally end off with another compliment so that it would appease them.
"However, support for the commonwealth can be improved," Li Xueyue added on. "For example, if the orphanages received more funding, or if schools were built to keep little boys and girls off the streets."
"And why exactly should the peasants be educated?" Duke Han retorted. "It is a waste of resources. These commoners are stupid. They will think a book is food and ink is a drink."
"Because these children are the future of our country," Li Xueyue said. "Whether they're of noble or common birth or not, they will play a crucial role in shaping the society."
"Little Princess," Duke Han addressed in a disappointed, yet highly entertained voice. "The people leading the nation for generations to come would be the sons and daughters of high-birth. They are the ones with the necessary qualifications to lead the courts. Not offspring of lowly servants."
Murmurs of agreement arose with his words. The government was already offering hundreds of new jobs to peasants and commoners. Why should they provide them with more opportunities? It would take up too many resources.
"Besides," Duke Han said. "What if the peasants rebelled with their newly gained knowledge? Now that they can read and write, surely, they'll think they're mighty enough to overthrow the Imperial Family."
Li Xueyue raised a brow. "Well, what's stopping the aristocrats from doing the same thing? You have more wealth, knowledge, and resources to usurp the throne. What is stopping you?"
Duke Han was taken aback. He didn't expect such a sharp jab from her. Truthfully, he thought she would succumb under his scrutinizing gaze. The Crown Princess commanded the attention of everyone in this room but that didn't mean it was all good.
"Loyalty," he chuckled. "Something that you obviously lack towards your birth country."
Li Xueyue let out a small laugh, cold and heartless. "Wanting to improve the condition of the country I am supposed to lead in the future doesn't mean a lack of loyalty towards Wuyi."
She glanced at him with a cunning stare. "Where is the loyalty of aristocrats towards the dutiful servants that dress you, take care of your children, feed you, serve you, and heed your every word?"
Duke Han scoffed. "I pay them. I brought them. They belong to me. Money should be enough to please them."
"Wouldn't you want your servants to be more competent?" Li Xueyue asked.
"They do not need to be intelligent," Duke Han spat out. "They only need to know how to work their hands and feet."
Li Xueyue pressed her lips together. Arguing with him was like talking to a wall. This conversation would go nowhere. If one wasn't open to change, they'd forever counter every suggestion and comment.
"And increasing the funding of orphanages?" Duke Han lightly said, his lips pulling into a sly smile. "Is the most foolish idea I've ever heard. We have already given them enough money. Why waste the yearly budget on useless children?"
"Because it is the country's duty to take care of their citizens," Li Xueyue deadpanned. "We wouldn't want a rebellion breaking out, much like what happened in other countries."
Duke Han narrowed his eyes. "You speak as if you know of a rebellion taking place. I suppose you do, since you're—"
"Enough." The voice was barely above a whisper, yet, it silenced the entire room.
A storm brewed over the Crown Prince's head. His eyes burned with fury. He was far from pleased.
"Insult my wife again, and you won't have a tongue to do so," Yu Zhen seethed.
In an instant, Duke Han closed his mouth. He was deeply disappointed with the Crown Prince's reaction. If the woman decided to fight for her opinions, she should fight alone. How lowly of the Crown Princess to rely on her husband's powers.
"I was merely offering my opinions, Your Highness," the Duke said. "I didn't mean any offense—"
"You irritate me."
Duke Han blanched at the Crown Prince's words. When he heard snickers around the room, he awkwardly cleared his throat. It seemed everyone was siding with the Crown Prince today.
"It wasn't fair that you hogged the entire discussion with the Crown Princess, Duke Han," Representative Wu stated.
"I heard from my dear cousin of her wits and have been meaning to engage in a conversation with her. But you continued rebutting everything without taking others into consideration," Representative Wu sighed.
"How greedy of you, Duke Han," he concluded.
Duke Han scoffed. "If you want to argue with that stu—" he paused.
The temperature in the room suddenly dipped.
Duke Han, despite being triple the age of the Crown Prince, shivered at the frightening sight. The Crown Prince's expression was deadly. One more word and heads would fly.
"I-I deeply apologize, Your Highness. It was the slip of the tongue," Duke Han stuttered out. The Crown Prince didn't have to point out what was wrong as the mere sight of his displeased face was enough.
When the Crown Prince continued sitting there, his expression growing dimmer, Duke Han panicked. He loosened the collar of his robes.
"It was just—"
"Bah, you must not want your tongue." Representative Wu snorted with a wave of his hand. "Just shut up and sit back down. You're irritating all of us."
Duke Han scowled at this. With great reluctance, he sat back down, mindful not to make another sound. Everyone had heard the rumors about the Crown Prince. Whether you're a high aristocrat or not, if you cross him, he would finish you off in a heartbeat. No one was spared. And no one dared to call him a tyrant even if the Crown Prince was worse than that.
"So," Representative Wu said with a clap of his hands. He turned to the Crown Princess and presented her with a large, playful smile.
"Is that all, Princess? Or do you have more to say?" he asked.
"Aside from taxes being too high on commoners and the fact that they don't have a representative from their own class to speak up for them, I believe I don't have much to add on," Li Xueyue mused.
Representative Wu nodded his head. "Well, those are certainly lengthy topics of discussion. But the rule of our discussion is that everyone must have a turn to say something."
Li Xueyue didn't need to be informed of that. Yu Zhen had already told her. "Yes, I know."
"In that case, I'm sure you also know that each member must be given the chance to share any suggestion they have prior to another issue being brought up by the same person."
Li Xueyue blinked. She had forgotten that one.
"R-right," she muttered.
Representative Wu's smile became more understanding. "Luckily for you, Duke Han has already given his suggestion, so you won't have to hear his annoying voice for a while now."
Li Xueyue wryly smiled in response, but didn't say anything. She wasn't fond of insulting people who opposed her. Wordlessly, she approached the empty seat beside Yu Zhen and sat down.
To her surprise, the next person presenting their idea was none other than Representative Wu.
He stood up, empty-handed.
Li Xueyue was confused. She thought he would be prepared to give a suggestion or two, since he was the Representative of Agriculture.
If she remembered correctly, Hanjian's resources had greatly dwindled because of the war. Many crops were burned to the ground.
"I don't have much to say today," Representative Wu began. "Aside from a progress report about the current agriculture situation and a suggestion I had in mind."
Representative Wu paused for a while before continuing onwards. "As you know, Hanjian's soil has always been fertile."
His smile slipped a bit to match the somber mood of his next statement.
"Even though our crops were badly affected because of the war, new ones are being quickly regrown."
Then he perked up again. "And by the end of summer, our resources should have a sharp increase!"
A happy buzz erupted in the room. Many people were happy at the news.
Li Xueyue as well. With the war called off, wouldn't that mean soldiers would stop occupying the towns? With the increase of resources, then many commoners wouldn't go as hungry…
"Well, my next suggestion is different from what I initially have in mind," Representative Wu said.
He made eye-contact with the Crown Princess and grinned. "Our citizens have worked hard to provide housing and food for the soldiers who fought to keep our nation safe. They gave away what little resources they had."
Representative Wu glanced around the room yet again. He tried to read the expression on everyone's faces but the majority of them were difficult to decipher.
"As a reward for the citizens' loyalty to this country, I will have to agree with the Crown Princess. Their taxes should be lowered."
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