Li Xueyue was stunned by Representative Wu's support. She suspected it must be because he was related to Wu Xiang, the Chancellor's son. Was this Yu Zhen's doing?
She frowned at the idea of this. Her eyes briefly jumped to her husband only to notice he was also surprised.
His brows were raised but he seemed satisfied by this twist of events. There was suspicion brewing within his eyes. It narrowed a second later, questioning the reason behind Representative Wu's compliance.
"This is a twist of events..." the Empress trailed off in utter disbelief. She had spoken for the first time since her arrival in this room.
"Not quite, Your Grace," the Representative refuted. He placed a hand upon his chest, a look of worry on his face.
"The commoners have done their duty to the country by contributing their scarce resources when they were asked. On top of that they're also heavily taxed. It would be a wise decision to relieve them by lowering their taxes," he explained.
The Empress's attention shifted to the Crown Princess. Was this the Crown Princess's doing? Perhaps time had changed these people. She recalled the first time she had walked into this room.
The Empress could barely get a word in, and when she did, it was met with snorts and eye rolls. No one would agree with her suggestions, not even the Emperor himself. Speaking of her husband, he was reaching his last breath soon.
"Did the Crown Princess influence you in any way?" the Empress asked with a curl of her lips. She cunningly smiled as doubt danced in her eyes.
"It's so strange for you to support someone, Wu Shiming."
Representative Wu chortled at her words, his laughter filled with amusement. "I recognize a great idea when I see one."
He shrugged his shoulders. "Besides, I only enjoy bickering with the aging Duke Han. It is so interesting to see him riled up, don't you think so, Your Grace?"
The attention shifted to Duke Han who had straightened up upon hearing his name.
"What did you just say, you rascal?" he demanded, finally realizing what was said.
Li Xueyue took the opportunity to scan the rest of the room. She noticed Lu Tianbi was seated on the other side of Yu Zhen. The Empress was at the head of the table but she seemed out of place. Perhaps, that seat was meant for the Emperor…
There were other people in this room she didn't recognize. She turned her gaze to the large, burly man seated beside her.
He was dressed in a full set of armor whose sterling silver contrasted with his dark, bushy beard. A scar ran down the side of his cheek.
When he noticed her curious stare, the man glared at her. It was an intimidating stare, one that made soldiers shake in their boots. But she wasn't a soldier. And neither did she wear boots.
"Can I help you, little girl?" the man gruffly said. His voice was rough, and strained, like the growl of a bear.
"You must be a Representative of the Military," she pointed out.
"Really now? What gave it away? Was it my clothing?" he sarcastically bit out, with a roll of his eyes. He muttered something under his breath and scoffed.
The man sneered at her, clearly not enjoying her presence. It was the Crown Princess's first time at the Round Table Discussion and she had already created problems.
"Best you keep your eyes to yourself—"
"I can say the same, Commander Han."
Commander Han's attention snapped to the Crown Prince. The latter was half his age, but was twice his strength. Even though Commander Han had more experience on the battlefield with an endless list of achievements, none could compare to the victories of the young Crown Prince.
"You should discipline your wife. She stares too much," Commander Han said without hesitation. He was the one who trained the fine soldier in front of him.
"Don't be jealous just because you lost one of yours," Yu Zhen calmly said.
It was then Li Xueyue realized the glazed left eye of Commander Han. Now that he had shifted his position, she could see him clearly now. Sure enough, he was blind in one eye.
"Like my horse," she mumbled.
"What was that?" Commander Han barked, clearly offended by her words. Did this little girl call him an animal?!
"My horse, Heiyue," Li Xueyue said. "He is blind in both eyes, but he's twice the speed of a regular horse of his breed."
Commander Han wasn't sure if it was supposed to be a compliment or not. She had compared him to a horse, but a stellar one at that. Was she saying that he must've been strong, despite his disability?
Commander Han grumbled to himself. What a strange little girl. She was similar in age as his granddaughter and both of them talked too much.
"Your words are strange," were his final words before turning back to the discussion at hand.
Li Xueyue watched as Duke Han continued to go back and forth with Wu Shiming.
"You rely on nothing but your connections to get your position," Duke Han angrily pointed out.
"Hah! You should look at yourself, you old geezer," Wu Shiming taunted with a smirk.
"But you agree then," Duke Han concluded.
"So did you," Wu Shiming pointed out.
Li Xueyue didn't think the Round Table Discussion would go on like this. She thought it would be more formal. She had expectations that everyone would speak politely to each other, with occasional jabs here and there. But this? It was like watching children fight over a toy.
"Are they always like this?" she whispered to Yu Zhen. Subconsciously, she leaned towards him.
Yu Zhen smiled at the small action. It disappeared a second later. He preferred not to reveal his thoughts and feelings here. Nonetheless, he grabbed her hand under the table.
"Yes, Wu Shiming always picks a fight with Duke Han even though the latter is old enough to be his father."
"Oh, why do they argue like this?" Li Xueyue asked.
Yu Zhen turned to look at her. Unfortunately, she was too engrossed in the discussion, rather than him. He frowned at this.
"Well?" Li Xueyue said when he didn't respond.
Yet again, she was met with silence.
Li Xueyue shifted her head to see he was glaring at her. Was he… sulking? She couldn't tell.
"What's wrong?" she whispered. "Did I present badly? I thought I did great—"
"You should look at me. And no one else."
Li Xueyue's brows came together in confusion. She didn't understand the intent behind his words.
"That is very possessive of you," she said.
"I don't care."
Before Li Xueyue could say anything else, a bang was heard. She was startled by the abrupt noise. But it was just the sound of a hand slapping the table.
"Oh give it a rest! Just because I offended your uncle one time, you love to nitpick at everything," Duke Han hissed. "Besides, the Chancellor is your uncle, not your father."
Wu Shiming glared at the Duke. "Do you lack that much family honor to not care about those who share your family name?"
"Quiet down," Yu Zhen snapped.
Instantly, both parties clamped their mouths shut. They weren't surprised to see his usual glower. There was a permanent frown on the Crown Prince's face. He never seemed pleased.
"Crown Princess," Yu Zhen addressed, catching her off-guard. "You have presented your suggestion for further funding the orphanage and creating schools for children."
"Those in favor of the suggestion, raise your hands."
Li Xueyue turned to them, hoping that her efforts paid off. Unfortunately for her, Duke Han had presented more valid points. Those who supported her were outnumbered by those who didn't.
"The Round Table has spoken. Your suggestion is denied."
Li Xueyue slowly nodded her head again. For odd reasons, she wasn't disappointed. As a matter of fact, it made her more passionate. The next time she would come in here, she wouldn't make the same mistakes again.
"You've also brought forth another suggestion that was supported by Representative Wu," Yu Zhen stated.
"Those in favor of lowering tax imposed on Commoners, raise your hands."
There was a moment of hesitation before hands eventually went up. It was an event that shocked Lu Tianbi and the Empress who had also supported this decision. It was the Crown Princess's first time here and she had successfully gotten her suggestion approved.
Nothing like this had happened before.
Despite that, Li Xueyue didn't claim the full victory. She had the help of someone else, whether she wanted it or not.
"The Round Table has spoken. The suggestion is approved, and will be in effect soon."
Li Xueyue could hear the pride in Yu Zhen's voice. He was proud of her. But she was an overachiever. Getting one out of three suggestions approved wasn't the outcome that she had in mind.
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